Kyle Troutman: Part III — The new normal

How much time a day do you spend on a smart device?

This question was posed to grade 6-12 Cassville students in a voluntary poll recently, receiving more than 350 responses.

According to the results, 20% of students are on a device more than 6 hours a day, 31.9% are at 4-6 hours, 34.6% are at 2-4 hours and only 13.5% are under 2 hours.

In the past few decades, the digital has become the driver of our world. I would consider myself fairly young still, but even I remember having just a single corded landline phone in the house, adjusting the bunny ears on the TV to catch the standard definition sports of the 1990s and firing up the 16-bit Sega Genesis to play 2D games on our 24-inch tube TV.

That’s all a far cry from today’s phone that travels in my pocket (I haven’t had a landline in over a decade), the variety of streaming services on our HD smart TV and playing open world and online games on my Xbox One, which is actually a generation behind the times.

Due to the nature of owning a newspaper, my phone is an exceptional tool for finding information and contacting sources. My daily average, as of Tuesday, is 1 hour and 19 minutes of use, and 40 percent of that time is spent on Facebook. That is also just on my phone, which does not track time I spend on social media on my laptop throughout the work day.

According to the GSMA, a global organization focused on connectivity, in 2020, adults spent an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes per day on their phones, checking them an average of 15 times per day. Three out of four Gen Zers also claimed to spent too much time on their smartphones.

Nearly half of Americans believe they spent 4-5 hours per day on their smartphones, 11% claim to spent 7 or more hours on their phones, and only 5% say their use their phones less than one hour per day.

These numbers are also increasing each year. In 2022, the average daily use time was 4 hours and 29 minutes, expected to increase another 6 minutes in 2023.

Since listening to the documentary “Childhood 2.0” — on my cell phone as I was driving back from the state wrestling tournament in Columbia — I have been much more conscious of my phone usage, especially at home.

While the documentary largely addresses the dangers of constant internet access, social media and more when it comes to our children, it also makes the seemingly obvious point, children learn from their environment.

What am I teaching my daughters if I come home from work and fall back on the couch and into a virtual world? Will I normalize my kids ignoring the world around them? Will they lose out on learning social cues and proper face-to-face interaction if I’m not exemplifying it?

In these past few weeks, I’ve noticed another point the documentary makes that pervades our lives. Most of the time when I unlock my phone at home, I’m bored. In public, people often use their phones as a wall to avoid interaction with those around them. I’m guilty of that at times, as well.

I think, for me anyway, interaction with people can be more difficult because there’s less control — especially if someone is upset about something. On social media, I can pick and choose what content I interact with and how. In person, everything happens on the spot.

Yet, if I am not exercising those person-to-person muscles and working on how I interact with people, I am doing myself a disservice. And, the more my children can see me initiating and receiving person-to-person interactions, the more they will learn how to behave in similar situations.

My screen time is down 45% from last week and has been progressively falling each week since I watched the documentary. I’ve tried to be more present, more interactive and more engaging.

It’s brought me more enjoyment than mindlessly scrolling Facebook ever could, but it takes effort.

As parents, we have to set the example for our children. If we choose to spend hours at a time with a screen in front of our faces, it will exacerbate the new normal and leave our kids ill-prepared for the in-person world ahead of them.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014 and became Publisher in 2023. He was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers in 2017, and he won a Golden Dozen Award from ISWINE in 2022. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or ktroutman@cassville-democrat.com.

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