Last week, we asked Guardian readers to share their screentime with us. How long did they spend on their phone everyday? Did they think they controlled their phones, or that the phone controlled them?
We received 500 responses and did the math: the average Guardian reader seems to spend two and a half hours staring at a screen each day.
Among the lowest times is John, from Derby, who said his screen time average is a puny two minutes. He’d swap the time to boil an egg, instead he said, though “it would be a very soft one”.
On the other end of the spectrum, some readers wrote to say they spent between eight and 10 hours a day (!) on their phone. (One responder, perhaps not surprisingly, asked to remain anonymous).
Heavy users reported feeling stress and a foggy feeling when using certain social media apps. Overall there were 75 mentions of Instagram, 52 of Facebook, 41 of Twitter and 39 mentions of the Guardian app (thanks for reading).
Of course, take those results with a grain of salt: this is a self-selecting group.
Those who are not happy with their screentime…
At six hours per day, Jessica Louise from Redhill says her average is affecting her relationship. “My partner often feels like there’s a screen between us”, she said. He wishes she could be more present while they’re watching movies at home. Yet, she is “awfully addicted to infantile games” like Candy Crush or Angry Birds.
“What horrifies me is that I spend essentially a whole day on my phone each week,” said Jennifer Corlington in Sitges, Spain. She is making an effort not to use her phone in front of her kids, in an attempt to lead by example. “Either we’re with them or we’re on our phones but you can’t really do both,” she said.
Ashleigh Young, from Wellington, said: “I do the classic mindless, almost catatonic scrolling of Twitter and often it makes me feel stressed or just flat, so I have now deleted Twitter from my phone and just have it for my laptop, so it feels a bit more conscious.” She added: “Maybe I should spend time differently, but then I’d have to face reality and that’s not a great option these days.”
… and those who are
Mick Greer, from Saigon, said he has “no desire to learn the tuba or write the next great novel”, so he is not planning to change how he uses his one hour of daily screen time.
Other responders were happy with their phone usage because they found their use of it was intentional, and spending four or five hours a day on it made sense to them.
“Anyone who might judge a person for looking at their phone is clearly not thinking of the vast number of things they could be doing with it,” said Victoria from Swindon. Her daily eight hours helps improves her quality of life, as she trades messages and banters over Discord with her friends living abroad. Nightly guided meditations help her get to sleep, and music and games help her get through a noisy commute.
For those who wish to do better …
Then there are those who made the conscious choice to gear their use away from recreation – little to no fun, purely function.
Natalie, from Birmingham, is embarrassed of her four-hour time, which racks up during her 40-minute train commute. She uses the Google Digital Wellbeing app to set timers on her commonly used apps. “I am now allowed only 15 minutes on Reddit and this is more than enough,” she discovered.
Open headspace motivates reader Joseph Slater from Cambodia who reminds us what Rod Judkins wrote in The Art of Creative Thinking:
There is an art to doing nothing, intensely. The geniuses of the 21st century will be those who can unplug from the unyielding flow of incoming communications: emails, texts, tweets, Facebook, phone calls, and on and on. There’s no hiding place from screens; we work at them; they entertain us … To work intensively for long periods you need to switch off occasionally for short periods.”
Lee Rice, from St Asaph, decided to go back to the dark ages and sold his smartphone last year. He says “life is a million percent better with a dumb phone”.
For others, like Judah from Oslo, keeping it simple has been enough: “The best solution is to put the phone down. Even gazing out the window on my commute would be more mentally productive.”
The bottom line? If these responses say anything, it’s not about how much screen time you accumulate or how you use it, but rather how you feel about your use.
Take a step back and consider your screen time: do you feel depressed about it? Do you know, deep down, that you’d rather learn Chinese or make pasta from scratch? Or are you happy being connected to your loved ones all day?
Once you have your answer, go all the way and switch back to a Nokia brick. Or, keep your iPhone X if your eyes have developed an insatiable taste for blue light. If you’re happy, we’re happy.
(But, we can agree that 12 hours is ludicrous, right?)