“What am I even doing, scrolling aimlessly through social media?”
A lot of people are worried about what screen time is doing to their eyes. Some believe it ruins their attention span, communication skills, and messes with their ability to read.
The biggest question we are tackling is if these screens are screwing up our thinking and concentration ability! So let us crack open our laptops to find out.
Hit The Bull’s Eye
Our eyes, because of all the gazing at screens that we are engaged in, are about to turn to stones. Today over two and a half billion people on Earth are near-sighted, and some predictions claim that by 2050, this number will double, reaching over six billion. Some researchers have titled this a myopia epidemic, while all eyes are on the screen time are the culprits here. But are they really to blame?
Well, interestingly, the so-called myopia epidemic started long before we hunched over iPads. So for most people, myopia began when they were young. This attracted the attention of researchers in some parts of Asia as more kids required glasses in the 1960s-70s. If the myopia epidemic started in the ’60s and ’70s that suggests, that screen time is not to blame.
A handful of studies on this could not find a clear link between kids having more screen time and poor eyesight. To explain this, in the 60s and 70s, kids were spending more time studying. The researchers now think this might be to blame for all these glasses. Kids also went out doing a lot more work that was right up close to their eyeballs.
So, stuff ends up looking blurry, which can reshape our eyes, making it a bit longer. If you are worried about your kids needing glasses, tell them to go outside, and get some air and sunlight.
Fear concerned with blue light also arose. Scientists looked into this and found that only a slight amount of blue light flashes from our screens which is significantly less than the level of blue light exposure from natural light.
It is also claimed that blue light can affect our sleep. It can lead to eyestrain and focusing problems, but no research has conclusively shown that blue light causes long-term harm, eye disease, or retina damage. One cannot ignore the glamorous stuff on the internet that keeps you awake much longer than you wish.
Attention Span and Language Skills On Roll
When we try to go beyond TV, and to the screens that kids are glued to today, there is no significant evidence to suggest that screen time is ruining attention spans. If we take another route and try figuring out if kids are getting dumber over generations, No. That is not the case when it comes to IQ. School records suggest kids have kept advancing mentally and physically in the past decade.
Some studies show that increase in screen time can be bad for language skills. Studies find that what matters here is the investment of guardians, time, and love. Sheri Madigan, PhD, clinical psychologist and an assistant professor at the University of Calgary in Canada, and a lead author of the study, told Healthline that the new research does find that co-watching and selective educational content may offset the risk.
If kids are left alone to stare at screens, they naturally tend to do worse with language. Conversely, if they are talked through about what is happening in their life or life in general, they have a better chance of improving their language skills.
Poor Mental Health: Isn’t This Relatable?
Spoiling our mental health and making us miserable, particularly being forced to do everything on screens and not seeing people in real life can be exhausting. The pandemic has been an anomaly here in all kinds of ways. So let us zoom out.
There is some evidence that since we started connecting more and more through screens, say in the mid-2000s, there have been much higher rates of anxiety and depression. There are also some studies with tens of thousands of folks showing that people, particularly teenagers with more screen time have more symptoms of depression and loneliness.
If you are inclined towards loneliness or have been lately suffering from mental health disorders, you might find yourself turning to social media. This compels the researchers to find a link between loads of Facebook time and loneliness. But the screen time should not be solely blamed for causing that or making you feel lonely.
Some studies are much comprehensive with their research and could help us get a clearer picture. For example, a researcher texting a group of teenagers six times a day over a week to see how happy they feel after hanging out on social media. About 90% of the teams said they felt the same or better after flipping through their feats, while about 10% claimed they felt worse, which also proves how social media can benefit your mental health.
In a 2019 study, Michigan State researchers found adults who used social media were less likely to experience psychosocial distress, which is a hallmark of major depression and anxiety. “Using a screen to keep you connected to people you have built a relationship with as a bridge is a more positive use of screens than just scrolling through Instagram or things that don’t enhance your relationships.”
However, what is important here is that when studies see an effect, it tends to be small. That is, average people do not feel worse about being buried in their phones. So the truth is, we do not exactly know why rates of depression and loneliness are going up these days, but it seems a bit too simple to be blaming screams.
Many of us have had moments where we just felt bad about being on social media for too long. So what is going on here? The different ways we are using social media are important, but that is often not captured in these studies.
Engaging in one-to-one communication can be productive for relationships. Mindless scrolling is like empty calories. We get to see this person’s cat, this person’s baby, or that person from the trip. Still, the problem gets down to this – “I have not gotten my needs met, have not been satisfied or happy because I have not talked to anyone,” and what we gain is empty social calories. Make smarter choices, bite the healthier snack, stop scrolling and text your family and friends.
As we grow up, we do not have good evidence that longer screen time are driving up the rates of depression and loneliness. But being mindful about what we are engaging with on our screens and how it impacts us can be helpful. People who have successfully quit social media at first felt anxious, suffered from the fear of missing out but eventually felt good about their choice. So, if you ever feel like quitting it, go with your gut and remember people’s cats will still be right there when you log back.
It Could Be the Technophobia
Why do you think we keep coming back to blaming screen time for basically all of society’s ills. Well, maybe because they are so pervasive for one. Especially these days when you have got a phone or a tablet, you have a screen with you all day.
Throughout history, we have all seemed to blame new technology for whatever is going wrong in the world. Socrates was worried about the evils of writing. There were concerns about the radio. I think that there’s always a concern especially from older generations to younger generations because things change so much over the decades. And there is homesickness for the way things used to be.
Liked Freaked Out by Your Screen Time? Should You Be? Also read: Warning: Don’t Take Your Thoughts Too Seriously!