New tools help you manage the time you spend swiping and scrolling – but is there really a problem? Kate Bevan finds out…
According to any number of surveys, many of us think we spend “too much time” on our phones – and you don’t have to look very far to discover studies that claim to back that up with figures.
One says we check our phones 10,000 times a year; another puts that figure at 29,000; yet another study says we’re tapping and swiping our phones 2,617 times a day… but, actually, who really knows?
Survey results vary wildly, but nonetheless, there’s a pervasive view that we’re addicted to our phones and somehow need to take back control.
There’s loads of advice on how to avoid spending “too much time” on your phone, plus endless pointers to “signs that you’re spending too much time” looking at your phone.
We’re exhorted to put down our phones and go on “digital detoxes” or even to think about “divorcing your phone”.
More recently, the smartphone makers have themselves got in on the action, with both Apple and Google adding tools to help you manage your screen time.
Now Facebook is joining in by adding similar time-management tools to its apps: the Facebook app itself, of course, and its Instagram app.
Announcing the move, Facebook said it has:
“…a responsibility to help people understand how much time they spend on our platforms so they can better manage their experience”.
It’s easy to be anxious about whether we use our phones “too much” when you see the headlines. However, it’s worth remembering that not all of our activity on our phones is narcissistic time-wasting.
In defence of smart phones
Our smartphones are incredibly personal devices that can do many things. If you look on your train or bus journey to work, you’ll see a lot of people using their phones.
Some will be scrolling through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Others could be catching up on their emails. Some might be watching a movie – or perhaps watching a useful webinar. Still others will be doing their finances.
Many will be reading a book. Younger passengers could be catching up on their homework. Someone else could be buying a gift. Another might be touching base with loved ones on the other side of the world.
Screen time scare
So what exactly does “too much” screen time mean? Dr Pete Etchells, Reader in psychology and science communication at Bath Spa University, is an expert in this area and he told me:
“It’s very difficult to get good data on screen time. At best, studies currently ask questions that break screen time down by device type and use type, but it can still be very difficult to get that fine-grained information about context.”
He points out that any links between screen time and effects on humans “are correlational in nature. In other words, if a study shows an association between increased screen time and increasing levels of depression in teenagers, it’s not clear which causes which – or even if something else is causing both.”
In fact, despite the concerns in the media about screen time, Dr Etchells says:
“The best research evidence that we currently have suggests that some screen time per day is better than none at all, and that amount varies depending on the type of use and the time of week”.
In other words, it’s complicated. But perhaps the scare stories going around the media that we’re addicted to our phones are just a little overblown.
So will you be using the new tools from Facebook, and also from Apple or Google, to limit your time with apps and your phone? Do you think the concerns are valid, or are you surprised at what the scientific evidence tells us?