Opinion: Screen Addiction - Screen Week


By Timothy Dillon

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Lin.

I cohost BreakThru Radio’s movie podcast, which is to say that, besides all the work I do in front of a computer, I also spend my time in front of a lot of screens. We have reviewed theatrical releases; those are very big screens. We have also reviewed movies that are released to Video On Demand (VOD) and while a television is my first choice, not going to lie, I have watched more than a few movies on my phone.

I am surrounded by screens, I can’t get away from them! Not that I would really want to. They have all become such necessities to not just my comfort, but also my livelihood. It was just three years ago that looking at Facebook on the job was grounds for a warning. Now, it’s a requirement to promote content. Perhaps the most pervasive thing in this world are screens. So what’s the big deal?

The Young

Whenever you read or hear something about screen addiction it is mostly in the context of youth. It’s probably because kids are the most susceptible to this technology. Studies have shown that 90 percent of children by age 2 have used a computer, and that 50 percent of children by age 5 use a screen device on regular basis. So it’s safe to say that we indoctrinate our youth straight away, and these kids, they eat this stuff up.

Unfortunately these screens of convenience might as well be poison to today’s generation. They can encourage preexisting conditions, like the link between cell phone use and ADHD. They also get us hooked at such a young age that we think it is possible to multitask extremely well whilst using a smart device. Looking at screens has become default, almost expected. And through this terrible behavioral pattern we get things like teens texting and driving.

No other generation past has had such an effective distraction behind the wheel as the generation today. It has been shown that texting and driving increases the number of instances you deviate from your lane of traffic. It is a fact that shifting your attention from the road to a small screen greatly varies your speed and acceleration, making a driver almost completely unpredictable.

While this is one of the deadly side effects of screen addiction, it is by no means a guarantee. In fact, it would be silly to point the finger solely at youth. A report from this past February says that UK children will grow up to spend a quarter of their lives looking at screens. That’s not counting work hours. Why it is not counting work hours you may ask? Well because that’s necessary screen time, you can’t count that, right?

The Old

In England, the average Brit spends 11 hours a day looking at a type of screen, whether it be a mobile (cell phone), tablet, computer, or TV. Here in the US, we spend just a little more, with nearly 12 hours a day on devices. The fact that audio/visual communication is one of the most efficient ways of conveying information does make a case for the prevalence of screens in our lives.

Such technology has transformed infrastructure of our society on virtually every level. It use to be that in retail stores at check out, you had a cash register and maybe a small digital screen that would show the scanned prices and the total. Now, I see computer screens with details about each item appearing. Touch pads so I can “sign” my receipt if I used a credit card. Even iPads with the attached Square have turned into ways of accepting transactions on the go: it is nearly inescapable in the modern world.

As haunting as this might be, let’s remember that while the generation of tomorrow is the group that is getting hooked, it is the generation before, that has littered our communities with screens. Saturating society until we are all a bunch of junkies.

Head Towards the Light

We are building our world out of screens and giving ourselves the ability to interact with them on virtually every level. Could it be more basic than just the utility they provide? Are we just likes moths to a flame?

It is not news that excessive screen time can lead to eye problems. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is a way of categorizing what might be a range of eye related problems that are all in turn related to staring at screens too long. So we know there are problems with screens, but why do we just keep looking?

Could it be the light?

Harnessing fire was humanity’s first real technological step forward. It allowed for light, cooking, defense, and then virtually every other technology thereafter. Humans, like moths, are drawn to light and what it offers, but this speaks to the value of natural light. So what about artificial light, like that from screens?

What is most dangerous about artificial light is that it effects the circadian rhythm, the means by which the brain regulates our awake and sleep states. Messing with this rhythm can bring on sleep problems, is theorized to affect cell division, and can even bring on unexpected major health problems later in life.

Photo courtesy of soeren heuer.

Our screens can give off light in a variety of forms, but what has become most common, is the Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Display. Due to the thin and relatively compact size of creating light with LEDs, they have made their way into nearly every compact screen device. The problem with this? LEDs can be harmful for our health.

It does make sense that the longer you have on a light, whether it be a light in your room or a tablet, the more likely you are to stay awake. It is what is being done with that time that matters. We are not shutting off, we are spending more and more time “interacting” with these devices. And the device itself delays the onset of feeling tired and desiring rest.

The vicious cycle here lies in how these devices keep us hooked. The content is so appealing and light wakes our minds up, grabbing our attention, and the real kicker, it never let’s that attention go. Has the fact we have incorporated this technology into every level of our society started to scare your yet? Does it surprise you anymore? I thought not.

Looking Ahead: Glass

In the TED Talk above, we see Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, discussing the role of Google Glass in our screen addicted world. The motivation for this device? To get people looking up.

Undoubtedly you’ve experience the following scenario: You are talking with a close friend in person, and they remove their phone and begin to look up a fact, or check a text, or browse their inbox, or check Facebook, etc. To solve the awkwardness dilemma exemplified here, Google wants to take away the screen in your hand and give you a heads up display system that incorporates information and the usefulness of devices with the world around you.

Problem solved! You can stop reading now, Google has introduced yet another game-changer to save the day… right?

The problems that Google Glass will bring to our lives are yet unknown to us. Due to their limited availability in trial stages, Glass can’t be studied or scrutinized for what it is going to change about the human condition. Perhaps taking away the need for the backlighting, what most studies indicate is the most harmful form of artificial lighting is a glimmer of hope. But unlikely.

These glasses are powered by micro LEDs incorporated straight into the display, without need for backlighting. However these LEDs are 30 times brighter and 10 times more efficient than other display technologies. With brightness and concentration of light being the corner stone of the adverse health effects of screens, this might but just be more a of a bad thing.

Bottom-line: humans are hooked on screens. Regardless of whether or not you think it’s the content online, or the accessibility to watch a movie on the go or in bed. Or even if it is our affection for the actual physical light these screens give off, no matter which way you look at it, we are in this struggle now. The root cause might be a way to stave off adverse effects, and help youth value time away from the screen, but in terms of addiction, there may not be a hope for society moving forward.