Screen time usage: You’re not really ready to go on a digital diet, survey says

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Your New Year’s resolution was to dramatically curb the amount of time you spend in front of a smartphone screen. Have you already fallen off the wagon?

The harsh reality of just how many hours that is became abundantly clear last year once you started taking advantage of the new Screen Time tools Apple introduced for the iPhone, or the Digital Wellbeing dashboard that Google produced for Android. 

And yet while more of us are aware of our screen time usage, only a relatively small minority expect to change digital behavior in 2019 to kick the habit.

That’s a chief takeaway from an online survey of 501 smartphone users between the ages of 18 and 60-plus conducted by the Loup Ventures investment firm. Forty-two percent of survey respondents say they use Screen Time or Digital Wellbeing tools.  But only 12 percent admitted to being “uncomfortable” with the amount of time they spend on their devices, compared to the two-thirds who said they are comfortable.

Loup’s message: Broader adjustments to device usage will take time.

“It’s kind of the classic, if dieting were easy, everybody would be in great shape kind of thing,” says Doug Clinton, a managing director at Loup. “It’s similar unfortunately for tech addiction where we’ve all over the last decade become very much married to our devices.”

When Loup asked respondents about changing their device habits in the 2019, only about a fourth said they expect to use their phone less.

The survey didn’t address parental concerns around their kids’ screen-time addiction. But one encouraging sign is that 34 percent of the youngest respondents in the survey – the 18- to 29-year-olds – actually had the highest incidence of saying that they wanted to spend less time on their devices.

Of course, this age group is probably on their devices more in the first place and almost certainly spending more time inside the likes of Snapchat and Instagram than older folks do.

Loup also asked users how they felt about the amount of time they spend in a half-dozen content categories: social media, news, email, video, sports, and games.

Social media and games revealed the largest gap between respondents wanting to spend less time versus more, 48 percent to 12 percent in the case of social media; 42 percent to 16 percent in games.

On the other hand, though, users want to spend more time (48 percent) in news than less (23 percent). The email and video categories were more evenly split.

Finding the inspiration to cut back

There’s no magic potion of course for cutting back screen-time. More than 43 percent of respondents said they’ve tried to reduce smartphone use at night or in the bedroom. Twenty-seven percent have taken steps to eliminate social media, while another 27 percent have tried meditation.

The Apple and Google tools may help some, to bring to the forefront what for all too many of you are the astounding the number of hours you spend on the phone.

Various third-party apps such as Moment or Flipd may also help you detox.

Look for inspiration from friends who may have ditched Facebook or Instagram – heck, you might even spend more time with them in person.

But maybe the message has to come from somewhere else.

“The thing that the tech addiction space is missing right now is a real public champion, someone that is probably inspirational to the younger generation who says, ‘I’ve gotten fed up with these devices just controlling my every minute of my day,’” Clinton says.

It is frankly difficult to envision who that advocate might be.

At the end of the day, the best way to tackle screen-time addiction is to look in the mirror (and not a screen) and get tough with ourselves.

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