The Shocking Truth of Gadget Use

We are online more than we are off.

Posted Apr 17, 2015

The aiport terminal was abuzz with holiday travelers. With our party of six, we were grateful to find seats near one another at the gate. As we waited for our boarding time to be announced, my partner made an observation that has become commonplace for many people today. He noted how engrossed two parents were in their smartphones while their kids that looked to be around five and eight years old ate crackers, completely ignored by their mom and dad.

"I've been watching the parents for thirty minutes," my partner told me. "They've never onced looked up to see what their kids are doing."

Our media consumption has become so habitual that to not consume digital information seems unnatural.

At the end of November 2014, Discovery Communications reported that 82% of its viewers checked their smartphones while watching television. I see my kids doing it. Sometimes I am tempted to do it too.

Split-screen living is nothing new. Maggie Jackson lamented about the pull of our gadgets in her book Distracted in 2008. On a rainy spring day in New York City, I met with her after her book came out. She helped me formulate some of my thoughts on our digital gadget usage that later became part of The Power of Slow.

And now this: According to a recent Nielson study, Americans use electronic media more than 11 hours a day. If you sleep for eight hours, that is only 5 hours without electronic input.

Yikes.

If I am to believe my eyes (and not this study), people use their smartphones for more than 1.25 hours a day. We use them for everything -- for entertainment, business, personal messaging and even for getting up in time in the morning. I am as guilty as the next, checking emails while waiting in line, updating my status on nature walks and life-caching when the mood strikes.

We are living in a Brave New World. Maggie Jackson was right. Our attention is eroding. Mindful living is at risk. Up from 35% in 2011, 64% of US adults own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center.

Statista.com, used with permission
Source: Statista.com, used with permission

If you think it is any different in Europe, well, it is not. More than half the population uses a smartphone now. We have apps for virtually everything.

So what can we do to be offline more than we are on? 

  • Leave your phone the next time you head for the hills (or the woods).
  • Conduct a digital diet. Turn your phone off (all the way -- airplane modus doesn't count) for at least an hour each day.
  • Free yourself from Facebook. A few months ago I spent seven days Facebook-free and was amazed at how much leisure time I suddenly had.
  • Read. Don't know a good book? If you like a good love story, pick up a copy of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes or The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
  • Exercise (sex counts!).

Life is about more than 'likes' and texts. It is about personal connection and affection. Put down your phone and look your kid in the eye the next time he asks you a question.

Get offline and into life. Every day.

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