Michael Doyle was “horrified” upon receiving his iPhone’s weekly screen time report.
The Toronto-based freelance journalist was already a self-described “heavy phone user.” It comes with the gig. But seeing that his phone usage shot up 33 percent during his first week in quarantine to more than four hours each day made him take stock of what exactly he was doing.
iPhone users are all too familiar with the report, delivered unprompted and certainly uninvited as an alert each and every week by default. The small dispatch, served up out of the ether with what feels like a judgmental wink, imparts a few pieces of data: the average time you spent on the phone last week (Do you do anything else? it seems to suggest), the percentage that time increased or decreased (You just keep getting worse!) and whether you spent it on “social networking,” “productivity” or “reading & reference” (Do you really need to be on Facebook that often?).
For Doyle, the rise was in “social networking.”
“I find myself being lost in the Twitter vortex for longer periods of times,” he said. He uses the platform as “a news source but also as an avenue to socialize, to connect with other people. I know it sounds corny to say that, but it’s one of the inherent aspects of being a human being.”
In the midst of the coronavirus, when many people are stuck at home, these reports have become a badge of shame — or honor, depending on your point of view.
“Weekly report available. You averaged 34 hours of screen time per day last week,” joked actor John Harlan Kim on Sunday.
“Thoughts and prayers to everyone who just got their weekly Screen Time report,” tweeted novelist Phil Stamper.
“When I got that notification, I found myself flinching at the results and instantly cleared it,” Stamper said via DM. His personal spike came from the unfortunate news that the spring book tour for his debut novel “The Gravity of Us” was postponed, leaving him to promote the book on Instagram Live.
Eric K. Singhi, a Houston-based doctor, tweeted his report, showing his screen time had increased 185 percent to an average of 8 hours and 32 minutes a day, with the caption, “Not sure how I feel about this.”
Singhi told The Post via DM that the rise in our collective screen time is natural in a time that finds “people still wanting to remain connected despite the recommendation to maintain a physical distance.”
Caledonia, Mich.-based clinical psychologist Nicole Beurkens points out, “There are also many adults working from home now and schools putting online platforms in place — all of which requires more time in front of screens.”
The average adult spends about 3½ hours a day using the Internet on their phones, according to a 2019 study from the analytics company Zenith, as Vox reported. (Android phones track screen time but don’t send a report. The Post has put in an inquiry with Apple on whether overall screen time has increased in recent days.)
Studies show that increased screen time can lead to a number of maladies ranging from the physical (eyestrain, neck strain, obesity) to the mental (anxiety, depression). Experts agreed that a few weeks probably won’t cause too much damage, but it’s unclear how long our quarantine might last — so it’s important to take stock of how it might be affecting you.
People should “be intentional about taking breaks,” Beurkens said, and parents “need to be aware of how much time kids are spending on their screens."
“I would encourage a balanced approach,” Singhi said. “Balance increased screen time with a walk or hike, so long as you maintain the six feet apart rule and if you aren’t being quarantined.”
Singhi also said it’s important to be mindful of how that screen time is used. He spent a good bit of time hunting down medical information and finding peace through meditation with apps such as Headspace.
For many, such as Oona Garthwaite, a Berkeley, Calif.-based writer and musician who records as Oona Ruin, the Internet can be a double-edged sword in the age of covid-19. Already suffering from anxiety after the restaurant where she works as a server shut its doors, she was “following the news compulsively,” which made her even more worried.
At the end of the week, her screen time surprised her: a daily average of 7 hours 48 minutes (36 percent increase) with nearly 44 hours on “social networking.” “That’s a full-time job, which makes sense,” she said. “It was a full-time job, trying to sort through everything and figure out what’s happening.”
So she tweeted it with the cheeky caption, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“If you have anxiety around the news, you’re sitting there and staring it and waiting for the worst,” Garthwaite said, adding that now she’s trying to “be distracted from the doom surfing. I used to not want to be distracted, and now I want to be.” She appreciates getting the news through Twitter, which is “peppered with comedic outlooks. Anything that makes you laugh is valuable right now."
Everyone has their own take on whether more time on a phone is a balm or an ailment — and their own ways of coping. Doyle, the freelance journalist in Toronto, is trying to put the phone down when he plays with his 2-year-old.In an effort to manage his emotions, Stamper, the novelist, is avoiding too much news. “But if social media or FaceTime makes you feel more connected to people, or if certain apps keep you in good spirits, then give yourself a break. It’s a weird world right now.”