Screen Time

*Disclaimer: This post does not have any pictures, commercials, infomercials, or flashy icons. By this time in the day, you have likely seen enough of those already.

A ccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the American (ages 15 and up):

“Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8 hours per day), accounting for about half of leisure time.”

Those without a high school diploma watched 4+ hours per day, and those with a college education or higher were under 3 hrs/day. Although that's a slight difference, still most people (educated or not) are spending a significant amount of time behind the tube.

To put that into perspective, in one year an American spends 1,000+ hours in front of a screen, which is nearly equivalent to the time a college student will spend in the classroom over a four year period. It is also roughly equivalent to the amount of time it takes to master a difficult language (were I to learn Japanese, for example).

In second place for time hogging, was socializing/communication. (This includes social media, which means Americans are still sitting in front of a screen like I am right now, typing up this blog post.) This means that if an American citizen isn’t sleeping or working, you can almost bet that the average American will be somewhere, sitting in front of a screen. I’m sure with over 50% of Americans now having access to the internet via mobile phone, this is even more likely in 2016 than it was in 2011.

Anecdotally, I’ll never forget when I took my wife out for dinner at P.F. Chang’s some time ago. While waiting to be seated, my wife and I observed a family of four at one of the tables in the restaurant. The father had an iPhone and was staring down at it. The mother, also was captivated by her device. Glancing over at the two children (conveniently a boy and a girl), each of them were mesmerized by the iPads in their hands (could have been games or social media, I’m not sure–all I saw were screen-lit faces). This is the Modern Family.

I’ll also never forget the last time I went through Atlanta to change planes. While passing a cafe in the terminal, I noticed a dad, mom, and little girl at one of the tables. All three of them had their heads facing down, and I thought to myself, “Wow, how cool is that!? A family is praying together!” But then my observational skills kicked in (or lack thereof), and I realized: they are all on their phones! Every last one of them! No communication with one another, just faces staring deep down into the blue sunshine.

And I’m no better. Looking over the last several weeks, my wife and I have spent a significant amount of time watching television because we have cable and have this looming sense of guilt hanging over us if we don’t watch it. I mean we’re paying for it so we might as well use it, right (even if all that is ever on the 800+ channels are films or shows we’ve already watched several times)? And so, we too have submerged into the digital waters…I hope we don’t drown.

For my own purposes, I find this observation valuable because it tells me where to look if I am to understand most U.S. citizens. What’s on T.V.? What’s trending? Which shows do people pay attention to? Which re-runs are timeless classics? What news station do people spend hours tuning in to—listening to endless political commentary and chattering cross-talk? This is the culture we are all immersed in, and it is a phenomenal cultural text to study in its own right—because essentially no one is immune! (The so-called “elite” and non-elite are in this together according to the stats.)

Nicholas Davis

Rev. Nicholas Davis is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.

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