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Easing off screens is necessary, easier said than done

Screens are all around us. We carry them in our pockets, wear them on our wrists and stare at them in a content binge. Our lives revolve around our devices. We use smartphones for seemingly every task we encounter. Whether that’s reading a news article, endlessly scrolling through photos of acquaintances, messaging a loved one, finding a date, listening to music – oh, and getting to our destination. We have become tethered to our phones. They are an extension of human capability, aiding us through daily tasks but also shifting the entire human paradigm. Should we be staring at our glass displays all day, every day or should there be some limits?

Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, effectively ushering in the latest stage of human development. Steve Jobs, Apple’s then CEO, described the invention as a companion device. It was not meant to take over human existence or interaction but supplement arcane tasks like map-reading. Last year Tim Cook, Jobs’s successor, debuted Screen Time. The latest app for iPhone provides a weekly time marker for how long the owner used their iPhone for. It tracks pickups, app usage, category breakdowns and overall time used. Another nifty feature allows the user to put in place limits on certain apps as well as scheduling “downtime.” 

For instance, I could limit my Instagram time to an hour a day. Once I hit that hour, I will be prompted to shut down the app or click a button to continue using it. It is a self-imposed shaming. Actively bypassing one's own limit is meant to fill you with guilt. “Downtime” locks the user out of all apps besides the phone, messaging and maps.

So what’s the point of seeing your screen time? Why are screens bad? It is not that the actual screen is bad for you. Well, besides the harmful blue light that will destroy all of Gen Z and Millennial eyes prematurely. iPhones and iPads block out the world around you. It cuts you off from humanity. Instead of experiencing human contact or the outside world, we have flocked toward the digital realm. Screen Time is meant to combat dissociation and reliance. Everywhere I go I see people hunkered down in their phones. I’m not much better since I never leave home without my AirPods but I try hard to stay away from social media … at least when I’m in public. 

Screen Time has been tested and reported on by The New York Times. Technology writers Kevin Roose, Kara Swisher and Farhad Manjoo each independently wrote columns about their experiences with their devices. Roose logged nearly 14 hours a day on his phone until he purged himself of his iPhone as an experiment. He reported that he felt much more relaxed when his log time was under an hour a day. 

Swisher is a self-professed tech addict. Her business revolves around her phone and she is fine with being an addict. Manjoo swore off social media and existed only in a print media bubble. He found the lack of misinformation and hot takes found on Twitter to be refreshing. I log about 3-ish hours a day on my phone and still think it is too much. 

The Atlantic reported that increased phone usage in teens and children resulted in increased levels of depression and anxiety. Kids who grow up with an iPad in their hand are reported to have less social skills and cling to their devices. Jobs literally invented the iPad and said he would never let his kid use one. Similar things have been said by other tech entrepreneurs. Screen Time is a service designed to limit the foibles of tech consumption. Apple and news outlets are yelling to consumers that our phones are bad for us. Maybe we should take note, and just not in the Notes app. 

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