In 1975 in the developed world, the average person spent 16 hours a week in front of a screen. Last year that amount increased to 47 hours.
In the next three to four years we expect to see it increase to 56 hours. Even if you ignore the projection, at 47 hours we are now in front of a screen more than one-quarter of all time. And if you factor in sleep, our time in front of the screen is more than one-third of our lives. In 1975 it was one screen in the home used on a specific time schedule—a television set. Now, households average three, or depending on how you count tablets, four screens.
While television still makes up the majority of our screen time, the screen on which you watch is changing dramatically. While young people in their 20s have as much interest in television as any generation that has come before, they have less interest in watching television on a television set. Many young viewers will never own a television set and are instead watching video on smart phones, tablets, and other screens. And, they are watching in places where we never watched television before: the airplane, the car, at the dinner table or while talking to friends. When you look at teenagers, there’s practically not a moment of their lives when they’re not in front of the screen except when they’re in school and asleep. In school, they’re not just in front of the screen during lunch recess; more than would like to admit are watching during class itself. And as far as sleep is concerned, we know that 90 percent of teenagers sleep within arm’s length of their mobile phones.
When asked why they sleep next to their mobile phones, teens will easily tell you it’s their alarm clock. Many have never owned a watch or an alarm clock, and the only time they look at the clock is in school waiting for the class to end.
The other reason they sleep next to their mobile phones is FOMO (the fear of missing out); they fear that something is happening in their social lives and they won’t know about it until it’s too late. So the best remedy is to have the phone be the last thing they look at before they go to sleep the first thing they do in the morning. In the last year or two we’ve seen some pushback to all of the screen time and technology dominating so much of our lives, a phenomenon we call “e-nuff already.” The best indication of this is a very new trend among users of technology called JOMO (the joy of missing out). For many, ironically, their time in front of a screen has come full circle, with some of us showing our status or our unhappiness with all of this technology by just turning it off.
Cole is Director of USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future