Addiction to screens

Barney Zwartz reflects on new research that shows the rise in screen-time among Australians.

I was 52 years old when the iPhone was released, and though I was a reasonably early adopter I was never addicted. It often sits in my bag or another room, forgotten, for hours – and apologies to anyone trying to get me when that happens.

I was astounded when research four years ago found that the average iPhone user touches his or her phone 2617 times every day. Mind you, making a phone call would be at least 11 touches, to unlock the phone, select the phone function, type in eight digits, then the call symbol. But even so: 2617! For heavy users it was 5400 touches a day.

And last week, Australian research firm Mainstreet published similarly disturbing findings that one in two Australians access their phone in the last three minutes before they go to bed at night (54%) and during the first three minutes after waking up in the morning (53%), though 74% are trying to reduce the time they spend on social media.

According to Mainstreet partner Dr Lindsay McMillan, addiction to screens for many is extreme. Most Australians think this is bad for society, with 83% saying this has led to greater spread of misinformation, while 75% say cancel culture has done more harm than good.

The pandemic is surely boosting screentime for many people, as they are eager to connect. But what those figures disturbingly suggest is that our relationships are increasingly artificial. The great Christian poet T.S. Eliot warned of this decades ago, in the first of his Four Quartets, speaking of people “distracted from distraction by distraction, filled with fancies and empty of meaning.”

Put that phone under a cushion!