According to a study released earlier this month by academics at the University of Oxford and Twentieth Century Society, we’re living in the first “digital detox.” Virtually everyone is working longer hours, surfing social media throughout the day, and being less active and less connected with the world than they were a generation ago. The traditional goal of an extra 10 hours of work per week has been achieved, but nearly everyone is working more than 30 hours per week.
In extreme cases, Twitter addicts work more than 100 hours per week, which leads to some unusual stories: one college is offering students up to $10,000 a year to quit social media. In December, police in Houston arrested a man for allegedly tweeting traffic reports to his followers. In America, the time-extension epidemic is not unique to the youngest generation.
Today, adults are using their devices longer and more efficiently than their parents did. In some professions, the average hour a person works has increased by 30 percent between 1990 and 2010, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Educators spend 21 percent more time reading online. This isn’t because parents and teachers have done a great job encouraging their kids to be tech-savvy. In fact, they’ve gone in the opposite direction: 62 percent of college-age kids said they use smartphones and cellphones to stay in touch with their friends while at school.
This conclusion is not a matter of opinion: In a recent survey by Pew Research Center, two-thirds of adults said they look at devices while in the bathroom, and a new pilot program in Toronto has concluded that kids spend an average of two hours per day in front of screens — three if they’re on social media. (In the U.S., the average time spent on social media in 2018 will be between eight and nine hours per day.)
They’re not just going to take it anymore. More and more parents are asking the question: If my kids are spending so much time in front of screens, is there anything I can do to help them get more exercise? An earlier University of Georgia study found that toddlers who watched video instead of actively exploring were more likely to get the worst of the food “tsunami” — heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and psychosis — than babies who enjoyed regular play.
This is the problem. Because our families are losing the ability to communicate in meaningful ways, many of our best friendships are with people who aren’t our family — and when those friends turn out to be people who don’t really fit in, the healthy bonding and bonding over love you share is often gone. When friends aren’t “your people,” what’s the benefit of a quality time for the four of you?
Facebook and Instagram are different in some ways. Both are designed to allow us to access what we want, when we want it, when we’re in the right mood, when we need it, regardless of whether we have our families around. Unlike television, which requires you to choose what you want to watch, Instagram and Facebook provide you the all-access access to the world.
More than a century ago, Simon Sinek wrote a groundbreaking book, Start With Why, in which he argued that problems are often solved by helping people build a context for themselves. Understand what matters most to you. Your personal rules for success and failure. Create a work zone in your home. And develop a work life you find empowering. Sinek wrote: “Success is in the pursuit of our personal values and goals. Personal values and goals are what make people successful in the marketplace. They are what make us better people. Personal success is intertwined with family success, and family success is intimately linked with personal success.”
Instagram is in the process of unraveling the web of social fabric we’ve built together.
As that process unfolds, it will dismantle relationships we’ve built in a meaningful way. It will also shake up our families, as the chance to discuss how to become financially secure or what great book we should read only exists through social media — not in person.
Look up from your screen to your beautiful homes, families, and friendships. Grab your toddler and educate her about what she’s reading, so she can make the connection on her own. The career path you’ve seen on Instagram may be as empty as the social media feed.