As digital technology advances, so too has experts’ concerns about the negative effects of excess screen time. As a result of this, digital well-being has become a key topic of discussion.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home measures enacted for public health reasons, screen time skyrocketed. It’s a completely understandable consequence given that the digital realm offers ways for socially isolated people to stay connected both emotionally and socially.
The results of numerous studies support what we all know: screen time has increased dramatically through the pandemic. Aggregated results suggest that the average user’s screen time jumped by five additional hours per day, with heavy users spending up to 17.5 hours daily on their devices.
Besides watching TV, streaming sports, and browsing, the other major ways that users spend time on their screens is through gaming and social media. The former has been somewhat less contentious than the latter of late, with social media use drawing a lot of negative attention from the press, and experts raising concerns about its effects on younger users.
According to ExpressVPN’s study on Gen Z around half of the young people surveyed were spending at least an hour each day on TikTok and YouTube, platforms with the highest usage times among Gen Z. An additional 14 percent and 11 percent said they spend five hours a day on YouTube and TikTok, respectively.
Gen Z users are also gamers. A 2021 Digital Media Trends study from Deloitte showed that among US Gen Z users, defined in the survey as 14 to 24, video games were the number one entertainment activity, with 87 percent stating that they play video games daily or weekly.
Video games experienced an expected surge in popularity during Covid-19 lockdowns. Nintendo, for example, reported a massive 428 percent increase in its profits in the April-June quarter of 2020. NPD Group found that the number of hours spent gaming, on average, had increased by two hours per week, as reported by Axios.
How healthy is all this screen time?
On the one hand, spending time engaging with others over digital channels is emotionally beneficial, particularly as many people are socially isolated or unable to be with friends or family members physically.
However, there are many unhealthy consequences of prolonged screen time, including social media’s potential for increased anxiety and levels of depression in users. In the aforementioned ExpressVPN study, for instance, 86 percent of the users surveyed said that their social media use had a correlation with their overall level of happiness.
It’s widely accepted that too much screen time isn’t a great thing, even those who spend more time online than others, namely Gen Z, note that they’d like to decrease their usage.
In a 2021 survey from messaging service SimpleTexting, Gen Z was the most diligent generation, with 73.6 percent saying they spend more time on their phones than they would like to, and 41 percent saying that they were taking steps to actively reduce their time spent in front of a screen.
Healthy digital habits
Technology is here to stay, which means social media platforms and games will always be available in the palm of our hands via our devices. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing so long as there’s some balance.
Cultivating healthy digital habits — taking a break every hour or two, not using a screen for most of the day when doing other activities, and reducing reliance on screens to battle boredom — is one way to stay connected and play games online while maintaining some much-needed time away from screens.