My screen addiction

Stephen King recently wrote a column for Entertainment Weekly on America’s screen addiction and a Nielson Company-sponsored study  that found that the average American spends 8.5 hours a day looking at screens. In his column, King tallied his daily screen intake and found it to be 7.5 hours, even though he considers himself technologically challenged. He went on to discuss the tendency of all to deny their own problem, much like we would any other addiction.

I’ll readily admit that I spend more time on my electronic devices than I would like, but that doesn’t mean I could get away from it. Right now I usually spend my entire workday (we’ll say about six hours) on my computer. That will drop considerably once I’m back at school, probably to about three hours a day. If I work out inside, I watch TV for an hour during that, and I have one or two favorite shows. I watch movies pretty regularly, although not everyday, so that’s another two hours here and there.

And then there’s the cell phone – the easiest one to forget. I’m definitely not as attached to my cell phone as some, but now that I just got a shiny new one – with unlimited texting and slider keypad – my time spent staring at that screen is likely to increase. Maybe say one or two hours. And if and when I get a Kindle, well, there’s another big jump for me.

Altogether, I’m not too far below average, and that’s kind of scary. I don’t think of myself as someone who’s always on an electronic device. In fact, I try to avoid it when I can. But even on my lightest days, I’m still putting in at least five hours  – that’s over one-fifth of my day.

Add in classes, sleeping and working out, and I’ve only got about six or seven hours left to spend on two-way interaction. And that’s what I see as the real problem. Sure, my eyes get tired and I might get a headache, and there are rumors of cell phones causing cancer, but the trouble with our wiredness is what we lose as a result: time spent facing a person instead of a screen, meals enjoyed before rushing back to something else, time relaxing or spent outside in natural lighting.

In our efforts to stay constantly connected, we seem to be forgetting to really connect. How much easier is it to text, rather than call, someone? To choose a facebook message over a postcard? To Skype instead of meeting in person? We’re so focused on getting things done and keeping up our fast pace that sometimes efficiency seems more important than quality, and that’s pretty sad.

I’m as guilty as anyone else. I usually have a lot going on and am an expert multi-tasker, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I can condense my computer time into one daily block and leave it in my room during class. I can keep the TV off unless there’s something specific I’m seeking out. I can share the shows and movies I do watch with a friend. I can work to hear my friends’ voices when I’m communicating with them.

I already do all of those things, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get better. This semester, I’m making a resolution to send some letters.


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