Since there are only so many hours in the day, we figured that all the hours spent on the Internet must be subtracted from some other activity. Are those 8 hours a day of screen time costing us some snooze time? Are we having less sex?
We decided to ask a group of over 200 parents: "What are you not doing now that you used to do because of technology use?"
Their top three responses were:
- Reading books
- Using the telephone
But this got us thinking. Have people really stopped doing these activities or have they just found digital equivalents? For example, while parents report that they are reading books less often, data seems to suggest that people are reading more on digital devices and computer. Tablet sales are up, newspapers are offering digital subscriptions, and folks (like you!) are reading blogs in lieu of traditional paperback novels.
Telephone usage is likely being supplanted by other digital analogs. Ten years ago most adults would have raised an eyebrow if you told them you were going to send a "text" message to a spouse or colleague from your phone. But today, 73% of adults have a phone which can send text messages and those who do send text send or receive an average of 41.5 messages per day. It's not just texts that are replacing phone time. Emails, Facebook "inboxes", Google Hangouts, and even family blogs have all given us other ways to stay in touch with our friends and family.
And while it is hard to imagine a digital analog of good old-fashioned exercise, we do see gaming systems such as Wii Fit or games like Dance Dance Revolution moving into that space. These digital exercise games certainly get you moving, get your heart rate going, and may even help you lose a pound or two (in fact the game system will sometimes even tell you exactly how many calories you have burnt).
But is playing a game of Wii Fit tennis better that getting walking down the street to the local park's courts? It's hard to know how we'll change over time using these digital replacements. What will be the long term consequences of not turning a silky page of a novel, of not hearing the subtle cadences of your loved one alerting you to a change in mood, or not feeling the first spring breeze with the cardinals chirping the early arrival of Spring? Maybe we'll end up having more sex after all, as we yearn for the sensual delights that we're missing from our screens.
What are you no longer doing? As clinicians who work with families, we are interested in both the positive and negative effects of technology use on relationships at each developmental stage. We are interested in the way that digital natives may be using technology in ways that transform aspects of parenting. And we are interested in how family relationships at other stages are being altered by technology.
Copyright Fishel and Gorrindo, 2013