We All Scream for Our Screens


Last week I ruminated on the joys of unplugging for a bit. But truth is, it didn’t take me long to reconnect.

Granted, my job is a little different than most, where being (ahem) plugged in is part of the gig. I’m one of the few people who vows—in the context of a performance review—to watch more television. Still, it’s a little shocking how much time I spend with my screens. I’ve got several demanding my attention constantly, it seems, and I might spend more time staring at them than I do looking at, you know, real people.

But if I’m overdoing it on screen time, I’ve got a lot of company.

According to a shiny new study by Nielsen, adults in the United States are spending an average of 10 hours, 39 minutes consuming media every day—a full hour more than we spent on media last year. That’s not time spent answering e-mails at work, by the way: It’s watching television shows, streaming movies, playing video games and all manner of other electronic entertainment diversions.

No wonder we complain that we never have any time. Our screens take so much of it.

The biggest media time-suck is still live television, Nielsen says, even though we’re cutting back on the boob tube a little. On average, Americans spend about 4 hours and 31 minutes watching TV every day, compared to four hours, 34 minutes in 2015.

So why, if TV viewing has actually dropped a bit, is our media time up? Blame our smartphones and tablets. We’re streaming about 60% more on our phones this year compared to last, and 63% more on our tablet computers. Indeed, those two devices alone account for 49 minutes of that extra hour. As a culture, we’re cutting back on traditional media sources a little … but we’re engaging with new media outlets a lot.

“We are moving ever closer to the world of Wall-E,” Relevant magazine declares. And admittedly, those numbers are pretty staggering. But is Nielsen’s study truly a sign that we’re overly dependent on screens for our entertainment these days? More importantly, how much time do you spend with media? Do these figures sound grossly exaggerated or just about right?

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Antilles58 More than 1 year ago
I probably don't spend that much... but I would if I could. Honestly, I love my screens. Now, much of the time when my wife and I have something on TV, it's for background noise while we're working on something else. And for me, I spend a lot of time playing games, but not anywhere near as much as I want to. I have invested a lot of time to build relationships in a gaming community on Twitch, and there are a lot of people there that might never otherwise interact with a Christian who is into the same things as them.

The real drain on my time and brain, I've noticed, is Twitter. It's almost become an addiction. Constantly wondering what's going on, if anyone's messaged me, why nobody has if they haven't, getting upset over some trending thing that I don't agree with, etc... This borders on addiction, almost, and keeps me way too tied to my phone and distracted at work. I closed my facebook account for almost that same reason. However, I can't get rid of Twitter, as it is my only connection to several friends from the gaming world.

I'm trying the experiment of getting Twitter off of my phone - and hopefully that helps me strike a bit more of a balance. Oh screens - what a love/hate relationship it is.
Antilles58 More than 1 year ago
Of course, the best thing about Twitter is that I got to have a conversation with the LEGENDARY Paul Asay, so that's fun. ;)
jake_roberson More than 1 year ago


Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago
To piggy back on Andrew Gilbertson's comment, the Nielsen numbers may be correct, but they don't differentiate between intent or specific activity, just a total time. I probably only average 5ish hours of "viewing" anything a week, but my phone (and/or TV) is streaming music on Pandora or news on IHeartRadio almost the whole time I'm awake. Granted, this is mostly in the background while I'm wrangling kids, cooking, doing laundry, driving, etc...much different than sitting on the sofa watching reality TV or gaming, The numbers that people are wringing their hands over are not necessarily taking into account that difference. 
Andrew Gilbertson More than 1 year ago
To my mind, a little exaggerated- but mostly because, as the parent of a toddler, I don't have the time to put in that much viewing. If I had the choice... yeah, that would probably be about right. And while I do plenty of reading as a diversion, if you count the reading of online articles from my desktop PC and phone, yeah pretty much. Tack on listening to music and podcasts while working, that might even be an underestimate. (And certainly, reading and music are not exactly the same things as screen-time, but they are additional time spent consuming entertainment and not interacting with people). So, I can believe it, absolutely. (And it's something I'm working on cutting down on).