Living Life Looking at a Screen

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How much of your day is spent looking at a screen? Remember that “screen” includes smartphones, computers, tablets, televisions, movies, jumbotrons, video games, digital billboards, and e-books. One online source estimated there may be a total of 8 billion screens in the world.1 Now let me ask you a more indelicate question: If you are a parent, how much of your child’s day is spent looking at a screen?

In a recent article entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge states that research indicates that young people who spend lots of time looking at screens tend to feel isolated and lonely, get less sleep, and lack ambition.2

This article was adapted from Dr. Twenge’s new book, which is provocatively entitled iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. In this work, she says the average teenager spends 6 to 8 hours a day looking at screens. Most of this screen time is spent engaged in social media and texting on smartphones. Dr. Twenge also says teenagers that spend more time looking at screens are less happy, more depressed, and at a higher risk for suicide, and they also read very little.3

Some people reading these ominous studies that reveal so many negatives associated with screen watching will inevitably say that correlation is not causation. In other words, there may be significant reasons why a generation of youths tends to struggle other than too much screen time. This seems quite reasonable since children have always been deeply affected by spiritual, familial, and cultural factors. Yet even if only part of the negatives associated with screen technologies is valid, it surely gives us a reason to reflect.

Of course, it isn’t just youths who spend inordinate amounts of time looking at screens. Virtually everyone has been affected by the new screen culture. All of us know middle-aged people who handle their smartphones so much that the phones seem to be part of their hands. One study revealed that some people touch their cell phones 100 to 150 times a day.

As a scholar and author, I spend a lot of time looking at screens (mostly computer, but also television). After all, I wrote this online article while looking at a screen, and you are likely reading it on a screen. But I also schedule my week to have days where I don’t look at any screens at all. On such days, I look forward to spending time with my family and also alone with my thoughts and in prayer.4 I also encourage my adult children to spend whole days away from screens.

More and more studies indicate that if you put down your cell phone, close your computer, turn off your television, and pick up a physical book and read it, you’ll be a more informed and fulfilled person. Add the prayerful reading of Scripture and a walk in nature, and you’ll likely be well on your way to experiencing a profound sense of peace and rest in life.

Endnotes

  1. Shawn DuBravac, “How Many Screens Are There in the World?,” ShawnDuBravac.com (blog), January 27, 2016, http://shawndubravac.com/2016/01/how-many-screens-are-there-in-the-world/.
  2. Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” The Atlantic, September 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/.
  3. Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria Books, 2017).
  4. See my article “Do You Like Being Alone with Your Thoughts?

  One thought on “Living Life Looking at a Screen

  1. April 10, 2018 at 5:34 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. April 10, 2018 at 5:46 am

    The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed that I’m listening to lots of online media ABOUT God more than I’m listening TO God. Big difference! I’m trying to spend more drive time in silence now. Online devices are definitely rewiring our brains. I find it more difficult to keep my thoughts focused. Thanks for the reminder that we need to be mindful of this trend!
    Kathleen in Knoxville

    • April 10, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks, Kathleen.

      Ken Samples

  3. April 10, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Great thoughts! This reminds me of the book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke. Great book.

    • April 10, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks, Travis.

      Ken Samples

  4. April 10, 2018 at 6:44 am

    Excellent blog. I do think part of the problems is not reading or researching on screen, but mindless activity of stupid games. I mean games where no thought is involved but maybe even tons of sex, violence or simple rabble. As a retired educator, I thought it was bad enough but the smart phone has put all over the top. The phone is an invader, an extension and growth. The end result should be even greater communication, but that is the case. We have almost none in some cased but people stroking their smart phones.

    • April 10, 2018 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks, TF.

      Ken Samples

  5. April 10, 2018 at 7:10 am

    Reblogged this on Apologetics4all and commented:
    Thanks Ken, for this thoughtful post. I’d like to set a goal for all of us to make it a point to have screen-free face-to-face conversations this week with members of our family AND colleagues at work.

    • April 10, 2018 at 3:06 pm

      I like your goal, Darren.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  6. Keith Wilson
    April 10, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    If I didn’t use a screen I would not be able to read this blog. E-books can be read when light fails, when sleep fails and you don’t want to keep your spouse awake, and can be listened to while driving. One can carry a library to read anywhere one sits down, read bibles and commentaries during sermons. Such practices are no less inherently unsociable than being buried in a physical book. Also, my wife now reads all my books, and through Kindle, also loves RTB. The volume of our reading has greatly increased. The cost is an important factor there.
    However, the graphics and photos are usually inferior, and I miss being able to fill the margins with notes and critiques.

    • April 11, 2018 at 10:24 am

      Hello, Keith.

      Did you read my article? I ask because you seem to be addressing a somewhat different issue than the one I discuss in my article.

      I’m not suggesting people give up looking at screens all together. Rather I note the real and significant problems that exist because of too much screen time for adults and especially for children. I think the excessive screen culture is actually diminishing our humanity. Machines are artificial in a way that a physical book is not. And the problem runs much deeper than just being unsociable (apathy, depression, and even high rates of suicide).

      I even mention that I wrote the article while looking at a screen and the reader will likely read the article by looking at a screen. But actually you don’t have to read this article through a screen because you could print out the article and read it and it would be better for you.

      Reading e-books carries some practical benefits and convenience (price, storing) but the studies consistently indicate that reading through a screen lowers one’s learning comprehension and recall. Reading print books and material provides much greater learning opportunities and experiences.

      I’m glad you and your wife are reading more because I think all reading is good but not the same quality.

      Here’s my article on why I think reading print books is preferable:

      https://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/should-we-read-print-books-or-e-books/

      Best regards in the Triune God.

      Ken Samples

    • April 11, 2018 at 10:27 am

      Thanks for the link.

      Ken Samples

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