By Sean Zucker –
With everyone but essential workers stuck at home, screen time undoubtedly is flirting with all-time highs. Whether it’s staring at phones, scrolling through twitter, binge watching Netflix or gawking at computer screens to read more depressing news about COVID-19, more people than ever see their only path to staying sane is found behind a screen. Unfortunately, for everyone it is probably a case of too much of a good thing—or bad thing depending on your point of view.
Numerous studies, in fact, have warned of the physical and mental dangers of too much screen time even before the lockdown began. With the majority of the county on lockdown, we might be facing a screen-facing catastrophe.
So much of daily life, both professionally and leisurely, already depends on the use of screened technology. The science community even has coined a term for this potentially harmful phenomenon, computer vision syndrome (CVS) and, according to the US National Institute, it affects about 90% of people who spend three hours or more a day at a computer. About 200 minutes of screen time was commonplace for most the population when things were normal. Now in quarantine city that amount may pale in comparison. In any case, the immediate effects of this overexposure can range from mildly annoying to downright scary.
Also known as screen fatigue, WebMD list the most common symptoms caused from chronic overexposure to be impaired eyesight due to blurred and double vision; dry, bloodshot and irritated eyes; neck and back pain and mild to severe headaches. The impact over time can range from a mere nuisance of constantly itching eyes to more potentially serious spinal misalignment.
If these issues weren’t bad enough, CVS or screen fatigue may help spread COVID-19. Think about it. The CDC repeatedly has warned everyone to avoid touching their faces during the pandemic as it is one of the simplest and most efficient ways of spreading the coronavirus. That’s tough to do if your eyes constantly itch, your vision is blurred or your neck and head aches from sitting too long in front of a computer.
Beyond the pertinent concerns regarding COVID-19, too much screen time also takes a particular toll on the young. According to a recent study from Oregon State University, prolonged exposure to blue light, such as that which emanates from phones, computers and TVs, may affect human longevity. The research suggests that the blue wavelengths produced by light-emitting diodes can damage cells in the brain as well as retinas, all while possibly accelerating the aging process. The study also warns that increased contact with artificial light is a risk factor for sleep and circadian disorders.
This is obviously not good for anyone at any age, but screen overexposure is especially dangerous for young people, whose brains and bodies are still developing. Unfortunately for kids trapped indoors, the surge in screen time has seen the largest spike, skyrocketing over 500% in recent weeks, according to a ParentsTogether survey.
The impact could prove noxious based on previous research. According to a 2018 San Diego State University study, teenagers who spent a disproportionate amount of time in front of screen devices—video games, computers or phones—were overall less happy than those who invested time in non-screen activities, such as sports, analog reading and face-to-face social interaction. The study also found the happiest teens used digital media for less than an hour per day because any longer resulted time increased feelings of unhappiness.
Florida State University also warned with its own study that excessive time on electronic devices is directly linked to a higher risk of depression and suicide among teenagers.
The data tied to excessive screen time is alarming—especially now. Thankfully, so is the remedy for related problems. Back away from the computer, put down the iPad and cell phone, turn off the TV and read, talk, take a walk, play Monopoly or canasta. You’ll see a difference.