For the past couple of nights, my exercise time viewing was a program I recorded last week about screen time. I was feeling a bit smug because I’m not one of those people who’s addicted to their phones. They were saying that people unlock their phones an average of 80 times a day, and I can go days without looking at my phone. I think I use it as a music player more than anything else. I don’t have notifications set for anything but texts or phone calls, and even then I mostly keep my phone on silent since I get so many fake calls every day that having a ringer on would be disruptive.
But if I’m being honest with myself, my screen of choice is my laptop. I don’t look at my phone very much, and the only time I do any kind of social media on my phone is when I’m traveling, but when I’m at home, I probably spend more time on screens than I should. It’s difficult to quantify, since my work involves being on my computer, and social media is to some extent part of my work. But I also recognize that it’s become something of a boredom crutch. The moment I’m not engaged in doing something else, my impulse is to check social media or otherwise goof around online.
On the program, they were talking about how sites like Facebook and Twitter are built around not giving you a logical stopping point. No matter how much you scroll, you’re going to run across something you haven’t seen before since they throw in posts that people you follow have liked or re-posted. That keeps you scrolling and scrolling for fear of missing out on something. I think that explains a lot. Back in the heyday of blogs, people posted once a day, so even though the posts were long, I spent a lot less time online reading them. The feed, whether using a feed reader or something like the LiveJournal friends list, was in chronological order and stayed that way, so you could easily find the first thing you hadn’t read, catch up on what was new, and then stop knowing you’d seen it all. If there was a discussion going on in comments, you could opt to get notifications about new comments without having to go back constantly. Going back a bit further into the days of Usenet, you could set your news reader to only show you new posts. Again, you could get through the new stuff you cared to see in a short amount of time and then move on.
But Twitter and Facebook seem totally opposed to just giving a chronological feed of the things you’ve said you want to see. They throw in things the people you follow like or comment on, and I think they withhold some posts to show up later if you check often. It’s all a jumble. And it does seem like this is why. They don’t want you to ever realize you’ve come to a stopping point.
I’m trying to be a lot more mindful about this and limit my impulse to just check online when I have a down moment. Yesterday, when I was taking a revision break between chapters, I started to automatically check Twitter and instead practiced my choir music, stepping away from the computer. That’s another reason I need to get my office in order. I want to go back to keeping my computer upstairs so that it takes more effort to go check it. I’ve tried trimming my lists to see only things I really enjoy seeing, which has helped some. I still think I’d be shocked if someone timed the amount of time I spend, the way they did in that program. The teenagers in one family were spending 12 or more hours a day on their phones. They were finding that schools that made students lock up their phones during the school day saw an increase in test scores and a decrease in behavior issues like bullying. And people who take a lot of selfies tend to feel worse about their appearance and more critical of themselves.
I’m guessing this is going to be a whole new area of psychological research in the coming years.