A Society of Screens

A Society of Screens

Photo Credits: JAMIE CHEN / AGGIE

Looking at how much time Americans spend on screens

The World Wide Web was introduced to the world in 1990, fundamentally changing communication and society as a whole. The usage of the Internet and rapid communication has increased exponentially since its advent and the current state of digital technology has evolved drastically. An estimated 77 percent of adults in the United States have a smartphone according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. Smartphones have played an integral role in shaping the current way of life in America and has provided an outlet to spend more time viewing and interacting with screens.

About 26 percent of Americans said they are almost constantly online and 43 percent said they are online several times a day, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. These statistics provide evidence that utilizing a smartphone or computer is a highly recurring activity for American adults throughout their day-to-day lives. This constant connection is not limited to adults either; 50 percent of teenagers admitted feeling addicted to their mobile devices, according to a study by Common Sense Media.

“Media use does change people,” said Dr. Laramie Taylor, the department chair and associate professor of the department of communication. “We spend a tremendous amount of our time looking at these screens. Like when you add television and then movies and the Internet, including phones, it’s six to eight hours a day, it’s a full time job to be entertained […] it’s what we spend most of our waking time doing, like more than we spend doing anything else, it’s gonna affect us.”

Katherine Boyd, a second-year cognitive science major, revealed why she thinks people spend so much time on their mobile devices.

“I think they’re biologically re-programmed to be addicted to their screens,” Boyd said. “I think that’s the only reason. I think that it’s a meta cognitive thing that people aren’t really consciously realizing how much they use their phone[s], or what their life would be without it.”

Taylor attributed the highly visual designs of mobile applications as a main reason for why phones capture our attention so strongly.

“A lot of the apps have one thing in common and that’s that they’re very image focused, they’re picture focused, because that’s kind of the killer app of the cell phone, right?” Taylor said.

Emily Henry, a third-year computer science and design double major, views the current trends of screen usage as positively affecting society.

“I mean it’s definitely changed things a lot, but like I think it’s overall positive,” Henry said. “Like I wouldn’t want to be in a place where I don’t have access to a phone and the Internet and like all of this information all the time. I think it allows people to be more connected and like know more about our world and whatnot and I think that’s really positive.”

Boyd also observed some of the negative consequences of constant screen usage.

“I think there’s a lot of effects that you can get if you’re on social media with stigmas, or like societal standards can make people think that they’re not good enough and [want to] change themselves,” Boyd said. “And then it can also be distracting towards like schoolwork. I think there’s a lot of negative effects that could be had from having too much screen time.”

There is certainly evidence that smartphone usage has changed society in one way or another. About 23 percent of individuals say they occasionally employ the use of a smartphone while in public to avoid social interaction with other people around them, while 6 percent said that they engaged in this behavior frequently, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Taylor stated how socioeconomic status plays a fundamental role in smartphone behaviors across different families.

“If you don’t have money and you spent $80 on your kid and $20 for their data, then [to] go play on your phone is pretty attractive […],” Taylor said. “If you go online and look for groups, you know parent groups that are talking about limiting screen time, it’s affluent folks from the suburbs who are really well informed and they’re advocates for their children’s education and well being and all the hallmarks of being upper class, higher SES [socioeconomic status] folks that are engaging in this behavior.”

Gazing upon screens for the means of entertainment, productivity or general time passing has become the norm. Due to the high velocity manner of advancement in technology within the past few decades, long term psychological, sociological and physical effects will take time to fully develop and understand. However, it’s clear that time spent looking at screens has increased for nearly everyone and already changed societal norms and behaviors.

Written by: Ethan Pearson — arts@theaggie.org