1. Screens now divide rich from poor
“Human contact is now a luxury good,” asserts this thought-proving New York Times piece. “The wealthy can afford to opt out of having their data and their attention sold as a product,” writes Nellie Bowles. “The poor and middle class don’t have the same kind of resources to make that happen.” Equally, whilst richer people and their children can and do escape from screens, less well-off people cannot. Whence a mass generalisation of ‘Steve Jobs syndrome’ (he strictly limited his own kids’ access to the iconic gadgets he invented): Silicon Valley seems to think screens are great for everyone… but themselves. As the article puts it:
Tech companies worked hard to get public schools to buy into programs that required schools to have one laptop per student, arguing that it would better prepare children for their screen-based future. But this idea isn’t how the people who actually build the screen-based future raise their own children.
In Silicon Valley, time on screens is increasingly seen as unhealthy. Here, the popular elementary school is the local Waldorf School, which promises a back-to-nature, nearly screen-free education.
So as wealthy kids are growing up with less screen time, poor kids are growing up with more. How comfortable someone is with human engagement could become a new class marker.
Apple itself is at the forefront of this movement, forcing iPads and iMacs onto schools at too-good-to-refuse rates. At the Paris school where my wife teaches, for example, pupils and teachers alike simply have to hand over a €300 deposit cheque to get a shiny new iPad. Something Apple openly does whilst encouraging its other consumers to spend less time on their phones, via the (excellent) Screen Time functionality…
2. Screens cause depression
Also referenced by the above article are numerous studies previously mentioned elsewhere. Whilst scientific research on the topic is still nascent, clear trends are already emerging:
- “Kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens got lower scores on thinking and language tests”, according to CBS’ 60 Minutes, citing a study of 11,000 children that the US’ National Institutes of Health is supporting, and which has yet to deliver its final conclusions. We await those with baited breath…
- Adults who spend more than 6 hours a day on screens (TVs or computers) are 25% more likely to develop moderate or severe depression than those with 4 to 6 hours’ screen time per day (which is already a lot), according to this paper, which collates data from a number of studies, going back as far as 2002 (whence its minimal mentions of smartphones, as opposed to TVs or computers). Still, a clear and worrying trend is developing.
3. Excessive internet use is bad for the planet
This sort of data gets banded about a lot, but at a time where increasing alarm bells about climate change are being sounded — the latest estimates consider we only have 12 years left to reverse the negative effects of pollution; after that, it’ll be too late — it’s worth reminding ourselves that reducing technology use can reduce our impact on the planet. Consider, for example, that:
- 1 hour on the internet equals 4000 tonnes of petrol, or 4000 Paris-New York round trips by plane*
- 1 email equals 10 grammes of CO2, or what a tree can absorb in one day*
- 1 internet search equals 5-7 grammes of CO2*
- 25% of digital pollution comes from data centres…*
- The global IT sector accounted for 7% of the world’s electricity consumption in 2012; that’s more than the total consumption of countries like Russia, Japan or India**
So not only using the internet less, but also deleting those thousands of emails you keep for no reason, can have a positive effect on the environment.
4. Your screen time is dominated by a deeply unethical company
Facebook – the company responsible for most of your screen addiction, especially since it owns Instagram and WhatsApp too – has gone from bad to worse since we last chronicled its misdoings: it has since emerged that it knew about Cambridge Analytica’s misusing its users’ data in 2016, two years before The Guardian and the New York Times broke the story, and did nothing about it; that 200-600 million Facebook users may have had their account passwords stored in plain text — i.e. not encrypted, as they should be — and available to 20,000 employees, who have logged 9 million requests for them since 2012; that it has deleted Mark Zuckerberg’s posts about key historical moments like the Instagram buyout, so as to be less accountable for past statements; and that it didn’t stop the livestream of New Zealand’s Christchurch killings because the video wasn’t filed in its new ‘suicide’ category. Once again, is this really the company you want to entrust with your personal data, which it uses to keep you coming back to its services and addicted to your screens?
Convinced? We hope so. If you’re serious about reducing your screen time, there are some relatively simple steps to getting there. Right this way…
Top photo © Motorola/ Phone-Life Balance campaign
*Source: Digital Pollution, a study (in French) by Solène Limousin, of French University Supinfo
**Source: Clicking Clean, Greenpeace’s 2017 report on the environmental impact of the world’s tech giants. Facebook, it turns out, is a sector leader when it comes to using renewable energy…
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