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Screen Addiction: America’s Next Health Crisis

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How long do you spend on a screen per day? Per hour? If you’re like the average American it’s anywhere from 9.3 to 10.6 hours a day, considering you sleep an average of 8 hours, this accounts for almost 60% of our waking life consumed by screens. 

Studies show that children who spend too much time in front of screen experience a lack of sleep, speech delays, and poor social skills. Simply having a smartphone within reach, even if it’s switched off or placed facedown, reduced cognitive capacity.

With the rise of screen dependency came nomophobia (smartphone separation anxiety), FOMO (fear of missing out) and FOBO (fear of being offline).  If allowed to continue unchecked, this burgeoning addiction to our screens will be society’s next health crisis. At the moment, scientists argue that screen addiction is not officially a disease (yet) while others are racing to find a cure.

For example, Summerland is a sleep-away camp designed to intervene on teenagers struggling with video game or internet addiction. Here the treatment is similar to those suffering from drug addiction: teenagers learn new skills, follow a behavioral change curriculum and socialize in the hopes of creating lasting change to their dependence on video games and social media.

Consider how you use your screens. Do they act as a buffer to the real world? Does it add to value your life or does it consume you? Is it the only thing in your life that brings you joy? Does it come between you and building relationships with others? When was the last time you daydreamed or let your mind wander instead of filling any spare minute with a mindless tap game or a scrolling feed?

Who is to blame when we lose sleep as we scroll through endless feeds in the pitch black of our bedroom? The addicted, the social network, or the technology that connects us?

Soon consumers will rise to blame these networks and device manufacturers for wasted time, depression, anxiety, failed accomplishments, bad work performance, and more. I already see the lawsuit Plaintiff versus Apple, Screen Addiction Caused My Job Loss.

The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist. Productivity apps like Moment, Offtime, or QualityTime made a splash on the app store for being the first to track time spent on devices, time spent within individual apps, and to proffer daily challenges to decrease screen time. Actively putting the information and solution in the consumers hands.

The big players, Facebook, Google, and Apple, are currently prototyping similar tools that show duration of time spent on their platforms or devices and ways to discourage constant use. Apple’s “Screen Time” and Google’s “Digital Wellbeing” are designed to discourage smartphone overuse through dashboards that catalogue time spent while also providing self-imposed time limit options that put the power of moderation in your hands. Is this an effort to protect you or them?

Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom says “Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution.” 

So what happens when we unplug? Preteens who spent five days in a nature camp without access to screens improved their comprehension of nonverbal emotional cues. Separation from your phone may allow you to perform better, by reducing interruptions and increasing your cognitive capacity. Maybe you miss a few “breaking news” articles, maybe you are “frighteningly out of touch” for a full day, maybe you’re alone with your thoughts while waiting for the bus or after crawling into bed. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself feeling free. As soon as this sentence is over, you should unplug and see for yourself.

 
Anastasia Garcia