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Rationing screen time

Posted: 13/11/2013 12:49

The last five years has seen a radical revolution in the way that we communicate. First we saw the arrival of the smartphone; which was followed by the tablet computer coming on to the scene.

Almost in the blink of an eye screen time has become a domineering factor in our daily lives. Phones and tablets have replaced clunky and bulky laptops which were heavy and cumbersome. This new slim line and ultra-portable technology is now a comfort blanket for adults as we constantly check them, worrying whether we might miss out on something.

Our ability to consume news and information, share pictures and watch videos on the move has become the norm. Smartphone ownership has gone through the roof, with the majority of us owning one, and the starting price of tablets is under fifty pounds making them accessible to all.

We can be logged on and connected 24/7; never more than a click away from everything that we need from our play lists to the latest best-selling novel. We're spending longer and longer each and every day checking emails, tweeting or downloading music. Devices the size of credit cards have the power that home computers did barely twenty year ago.

Technology has revolutionised the way that we live in just one generation bringing with it a huge transformation. As the saying goes 'information is power' and we have the ability to participate in a plethora of activities whether sat on the sofa or on a train to work.

And yet screen time feels as though it's at saturation point; clinics dealing in screen addiction are seeing business booming with clients as young as 4 years-old. It is as though technology has developed so fast that the social norm of how we use smartphones and tablets is lagging behind. How long is it acceptable to stare at a screen for and what is screen time replacing? Should tablet computers be part of the everyday life of children when it starts to replace time spent playing outdoors?

When-ever I'm waiting for a train west at London Paddington I'm always amazed by the sea of people looking down at their devices, in their own private universe. It's the same on the trains. Laptops might be heavy but tablets are easy to move around. We don't seem to have any time away from screens any more even when we're travelling from A to B.

The lure of the screen and its power to distract and detain was brought home to me recently when we went away to Dorset. My six year old daughter asked me if I had my work phone with me. When I answered 'no' she said that's great as you can play instead of looking at your phone. Screen time can easily start to impinge on family time: just visit any park on a Saturday morning - parents spending time on screens when the kids are playing.

Balance in our lives is so important. Too much of something isn't usually a good thing. The recent launch of the Wild Network campaign to get parents to swap some of their kids screen time for wild time is as applicable to adults too. And the important new documentary film, 'Project Wild Thing', about reconnecting kids with nature, clearly shows how technology is taking the place of wild time in the daily lives of children.

We're in danger of letting technology take over our lives. We need to rediscover the joy of time spent away from our screens and get that control back. Think about your daily routine and it's likely that you'll spend a fair chunk of it looking at screens of various sizes. Why not resist turning on your smartphone as soon as you wake up or perhaps leave it at home when you go to the park with the kids or on a walk with friends turn it off when walking and talking.

The pendulum has swung so far and so fast so quickly that we need to act now to get the balance back in our lives. It's up to us to make sure that we control technology and all of the benefits that it brings and not the other way round.

 

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