For many of us, our own histories serve as a way to measure the gradual increase in screen time that most adults have experienced. Millennials have gone through a rather jarring transition from TVs the size of engine blocks to smartphones over their thirty-odd years, while there’s evidence that the younger generations don’t really bother with anything that doesn’t fit in their pocket.
Of course, the nature of the modern workforce demands that everybody has access to a computer, and this is arguably where several generations come together. Computers have been used in the workplace since the 1930s but they didn’t really become commonplace in the office until the early 90s. Fans of US sitcom Friends will no doubt remember Chandler’s laptop from 1994, which had an almighty 4MB of RAM.
As the cost of tech has come down (Chandler’s Compaq Contura cost $6,756 when adjusted for inflation), screen time has gone up. In fact, outside of work, some people can spend an extended period of time on individual websites. For instance, according to the results of a survey conducted by ExpressVPN on social media usage by Generation Z, a good 14% of people aged 16-24 spend more than five hours a day on the video website YouTube.
As we also spend six hours a day at work looking at screens, the amount of time we spend looking at something – anything – else can seem minuscule. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a potential health crisis for the human race. There’s evidence that screen time of all descriptions serves as an “invisible pollutant”, to quote Happy Mag – and it’s a problem that’s gradually getting worse.
The same source notes that an hour of conventional TV creates 88g of CO2 while watching Netflix for the same duration produces 1681.5g, an increase of 1810.8%. While there’s much to be said for the environmental damage produced by old TVs, which are toxic, there’s no denying the fact that the march of technological progress is contributing to climate change too.
The concept of screen time taking up the mantle of plastic and other conventional pollutants isn’t a new one but something that has to become part of the public’s collective consciousness. The Independent newspaper claims that modern people spend 40% of their time in front of one screen or another. If we consider the fact that a single website produces a boiled kettle’s worth of CO2 (6.8g), the environmental impact must be massive, already.
Let’s go back to the most important word in this article, though – invisible. How does something with no physical presence create pollution? A website alone is almost irrelevant but as phones and computers require electricity and social media relies on vast server farms to operate, the internet is eroding what remains of the planet’s defenses. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see a way out.
In summary, while we were all warned that watching TV will give us square eyes, it’s now the environment that has to fear runaway screen time.