Osgerby: Should we be worried about too much screen time?

BY PAUL OSGERBY | MARCH 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Childwise, a market research firm, recently published its annual Connected Kids report — an analysis looking at the average amount of time boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16 are in front of electronic screens, whether that’s computer, phone, television, etc. The findings?

Of the entire 2,000-person survey, the average time spent in front of a screen was six hours per day. When the study began 20 years ago, the average time was approximately three hours.

Teenage boys and girls clocked in at the highest use with eight and seven-and-a-half hours, respectively. This is partially because of the rise in multi-screening, or multitasking between screens, such as watching television and reading from a tablet or computer.

Younger children between ages 5 and 10 have gone from an average and two-and-a-half hours per day in 1995 to nearly four-and-a-half hours of daily screening. To me, that’s a startling amount of time for the youths.

Perhaps it’s the sleeping-giant-old-fashioned-man in me, but I can’t help but distrust the physical and mental consequences that may arise from this trend. Being raised in the transitional generation, in which technology and the Internet began to make their way from the periphery toward the focus of how our information is traded and created, I maintain my value for life outside of the digital screen.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I am under no disillusionment that I am a slave to my computer, especially as a college student. However, I just make a point in my days to avert my gaze from screens.

Computer vision syndrome is the physical effect of staring at screens, particularly in prolonged periods of time. Typical signs are eye fatigue, strain, irritation, and blurriness. According to a Time report, there is no linked permanent damage from the syndrome, but it affects anywhere from 64 to 90 percent of office workers.

As the job world increasingly shifts to more digitalized procedures, that could begin to affect a significant chunk of our population.

The syndrome may not currently have any known permanent side effects, but I would wager a gentlemen’s bet that this will change soon (what doesn’t have some sort of ill long-term on our lives these days?). Physical complications aside, the mental consequences scare the likely old soul in me.

Our culture is dependent on information traveling at instant speeds. From the Connected Kids report, it seems we are introducing the young to this culture. Is this as a means of assimilation, whether consciously or unconsciously? I am unsure.

By instilling the need to spread and receive nearly all information in the world through digital means, children must become even further consumers. To satiate the need to consume, one then must be dependent on a screen — a feedback loop.

Call me old-fashioned or resistant to the digital age, but there is something inherently human that is being left out in technology, even with all the latest advancements. I fear we will lose that sense of human genuineness if we become overly dependent on our screens.

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