By Olivia Cerci

January. February. March. April. May. June. July. August. September. October. November. December. 

What if you had to remove one month from the calendar? Would you be happy to dispose of a begrudgingly hot span of summer? Excited to remove the slew of greatest snowstorms? Weighing which holidays are the most dispensable? Unwilling to relinquish a part of a favorite season?

It may seem to be an unthinkable claim, but the average American year contains only 11 months. Where has that remaining time snuck off to? Just one look at the screen time feature of iPhone settings begins to lend some clarity. A 2017 Future in Focus report showed that the average American adult spends slightly under three hours daily on their smartphone (though some spend 3x as much). While most are content to evaluate their media consumption in terms of a singular day, few consider the long term ramifications of their screen time. Let’s do some simple math. 

(a supposed) 3 hours a day x 365 days a year = 1,095 hours a year

1,095 hours a year / 24 hours in a day = 45.625 days a year

Considering one month is (at most) 31 days, our smartphone use is significantly over one month each year 

This assessment of screen time strictly on the smartphone fails to take into account movies, television, video games, and laptop use, which cause the hours logged to sail higher and higher. So, plausibly, the annual day count could reach even 50 or 60. 

Who is affected?

The Pew Fact Sheet for Mobile Devices says that 96 percent of Americans age 18-29 have a smartphone, decreasing only slightly to 92% of adults age 30-49. This ownership brings a battlefield to older and younger demographics alike. Both teens and their parents have made self-attributed claims of spending too much time in front of screens. 

Yet, these same individuals are often found clamoring about the absence of “free time” to get away from mundane and crippling tasks required of them and do the things they enjoy. Consumers are often rendered oblivious to the demands of their devices being the very thing that usurp any time possessed for precious enjoyment. This phenomenon continues to be studied, as we see an increase in technology addiction and dependency. We are caught in a cycle that beckons us to choose how we want to invest our time and energy. 

A Technology-Driven World

Considering we live in an age that thrives on tech-savvy convenience and immediacy, it is hard to escape the world of screens. We hold them in our hands, carry them in our bags, and wear them on our wrists. There seems to be no way to reverse the status quo of technology when it comes to work, but what about our recreation? Is there a way to redeem our free time from our phones? There is enough of a necessity in the workplace or school to require technology as a means of performance, accomplishment, and success, but what about outside the walls of our careers and our studies? 

For this reason, it is important to distinguish our recreational or compulsive intake of media. Studies predict that throughout their lifetime, smartphone users will spend 5 years and 4 months on their phone, coupled with a whopping 7 years and 8 months watching TV. Smartphone use alone is almost double the amount of time people spend eating and drinking before they die. 

Pew Research on Teen Cell Phone Use uncovers that our media access is constant, “just to pass time” and used to avoid face to face interactions, thus becoming dangerous and overpowering. Consumers have heard enough of the detrimental social, physical, and cognitive effects of excessive screen time. What isn’t pressed on smartphone users is the life that is lost. By engaging with the glow of our phones, we refrain from life apart from them. Based on the above calculation, American smartphone users will lose years of their lives if this trend continues. Many seem to be coming to their senses, however, as some 52% of U.S. teens have cut back their mobile phone use, and 57% have tried to limit their use of social media. 

What about the flip phone?

One answer to this problem, as many have tried, is embracing a return to the “flip phone’ era. Observers and consumers alike have seen the detrimental costs of our smartphones: constant availability, fragmented conversation, a rewired brain, and the literal price of our newest devices. Although the flip phones provide relief from excess screen use, many people who make the switch have found difficulty without access to commonly used apps such as Maps, Venmo, banking, internet, Uber, and more. The efficient apps for the iPhone that render it almost invaluable come at a price: the necessity to monitor our screen usage while it is available. For this reason, we must consider what inspiration there is for users to wrench themselves away from their screens. 

Aza Raskin, a technology engineer stated that “behind every screen…there are generally a thousand engineers [working]…to make it maximally addicting.”

Andy Crouch, author of The Tech Wise Family asks, “Wouldn’t [our life] be better spent enjoying and serving the world God made rather than a glowing screen?” Moments, hours, days, months, and years can be sacrificed towards technological indulgence, or for the deep, soul rewarding endeavor of conversation and friendship. It is a battlefield to free trapped fingers from the buttons and eyes from screens, but it may just redeem some of that twelfth month in return.