Three and half years ago I moved back to Toronto. It never occurred to me that moving back to a place I had grown up in and loved could be so isolating. There are two easy answers for this: 1) the city had grown so much in the years I’ve been away that logistically connecting with friends spread out in the GTA is a bit of a nightmare. It’s an obstacle. 2) Everyone has busy lives and that too is an obstacle.
However, for some time now I’ve thought there is more this. I have lived in many different places in my lifetime and I’ve never had problems making new friends. It’s my strategy to get out there and meet new people in a variety of ways and it’s always worked. So after I moved back that is what I did. I looked for volunteer opportunities, invited people to join me for movies, handed out my card at a book launch and invited table mates to call me if they wanted to discuss the book, attended local meetups and suggested to a neighbour we go for coffee sometime following a long chat about gardening. There was more and yet, very little has come from this.
Recently, I’ve realized that public spaces and public activities are losing out to Netflix (and probably also Facebook et al., but Netflix for sure.) And I’ve realized this because after three and a half years some of my neighbours will occasionally join me for a movie. Now, in the past when I used to go to a movie with a friend or friends the conversation that followed used to be about the movie and other aspects of our lives. But, this is not what happened the last two times I went to the movies. The conversation that followed the movie only touched on the movie but grew intense when it shifted to what people were watching on Netflix. Hmmm. Don’t get me wrong, I like Netflix and I also like Facebook (well Facebook not so much anymore, but that’s another conversation). What I don’t like is that people would rather sit alone in their apartments for hours watching Netflix or checking their Facebook than engage with someone face to face. What’s interesting to me is that when I say to an old friend over dim sum that I like people more than Netflix, but I’m not sure a lot of people do anymore, his response is that he too likes people more. I suppose that is why we’re sharing a meal and discussing a wide variety of topics as well as a couple of personal challenges. Nice story aside, when someone else tells me over coffee later that there was a recent study on how screen time has been linked to happiness in teens and the same may be true for the rest of us, I pull out my phone and start doing the math. If an hour of screen time makes people happier but more increases unhappiness how many hours does that work out to in a year? One hour of screen time a day equals 356 hours a year; 168 hours in a week so if you spend one hour a day on screen time or watching Netflix that works out to just over two weeks a year. But, those are 24-hour days and we aren’t awake for 24 hours. So if we spend 9 hours sleeping and 15 hours awake then it’s more like three and half weeks: a bit outrageous, but not crazy outrageous. However, if we are spending 2 hours a day on Netflix, social media and surfing the web, then that doubles to seven weeks or almost two months, three hours a day, ten and half weeks or two and half months. And that is crazy outrageous. If someone handed you two and half months to do anything or even seven weeks what would you do with that time? How could you use that time? It’s somewhat mind boggling to just think about it like that. And if someone told you they were going to take away ten and half weeks of your life every year would you just give it to them? In the last couple of years I’ve spent days binge watching House of Cards, Downtown Abbey and who knows what else, but these numbers make me think “I’m done.” One hour a day is plenty. A little knowledge, in this case, is a good thing. The people who develop all of these technologies have now admitted that they were built to be addictive and keep users engaged. When I take all of this into consideration it makes me think that it’s time I said “thanks, but no thanks Netflix, Facebook and Google. I’ll use my time differently and absolutely, I’ll keep looking for others who like people better than Netflix. I’m sure I’ll be much happier.”
P.S. for the adults in the crowd the study’s author also speculates that limiting screen time could improve your love life. Hmmm.(Why your free time probably shouldn’t be screen time)