Who Knows Where the Time Goes?


I saw a couple of reports a few days ago that were quite disturbing. I know that children have been spending more and more time in front of some sort of screen, but I was shocked by the actual numbers involved. Neilsen Company, based on survey data, reports that preschoolers, ages 2 to 5, spend 32.5 hours in front of a television screen. I guess their thumbs are not yet developed enough to allow them to devote additional hours to texting.

The next older cohort, from 6 to 11, spend a little less time, 28 hours on the average. Neilsen explains the difference simply as the result of spending more hours at school. But that means that the children manage to find hours to make up for the much of the time lost in the classroom and doing homework. No data on the number and kind of advertisements that show up during these long hours was given in the studies. I have seen such numbers previously and they are staggering.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a similar report with data on the viewing habits of 8 to 18 year olds. The data are more than shocking. The number of hours per day are nearly the same as what goes for a day at the office, about 7 1/2 hours every day. Texting is in addition and adds another hour and a half per day. The time connected to a screen is even longer when the growing tendency for multi-tasking is considered. Because so many are connected to more than one form of media at a time, the daily exposure increases from 7 1/2 to almost 10 3/4 hours.

While the numbers, per se, are fraught with all kinds of implications, I find this situation tells another more ominous story concerning sustainability. The way the media work puts the viewer in a kind of mindless state. The outside world disappears from consciousness. I watch the kids walk down the street completely enrapt in their iPods and mobile phones. That the consequences of ignoring the world around is causing numerous auto accidents has become well documented, and steps are being taken to make use of mobile phones and texting while driving illegal. I also read more about people walking into holes or getting into accidents while crossing the street.

I have argued that one underlying cause of unsustainability is the loss of caring for self, others, and the world. Another way to talk about this is to speak of loss of consciousness instead of care. In any case, the hours and hours spent connected to the cyberworld push out virtually all opportunities for learning to care. Walking into oncoming cars is a stark example of not being conscious of one’s own self, and the need to keep it safe and sound. The outside world is essentially invisible when one is tied to the device in one’s hand. Not only is the opportunity to care for the world eroded away, but the world itself gets lost.

Although the time spent in contact with other people via the media may be the largest segment of time other than some form of diversion, the quality of the connections is not about caring. I have written about the tendency for media devices and programs to diminish the meaning of relationships, converting understanding what friends and other forms of relationships mean into a mechanical picture.

The data on the effects of all this time spent with these devices shows increasing deleterious impacts. School performance decreases with heavy use. Other studies show a correlation between obesity and hours in front of televisions for younger watchers. A shift from fixed TV sets to portable devices makes it easier to spend more time. The effects are age, gender, and ethnicity sensitive.

Kevin Kelly of Wired fame and others see information technology as an unmitigated blessing; one that all of us, especially we of the grandparent generation, have to accept. These data don’t convince me. Without caring, sustainability cannot arrive. It takes fully conscious human beings to understand the predicament in which we have put ourselves and Earth, and the same fully conscious beings to get us out of it. The answers are not to be found on Twitter or by IMing or even on Sesame Street.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes (Sandy Denny)

Who knows where the time goes?

And I am not alone while my love is near me

I know it will be so until it’s time to go

So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again

I have no fear of time

For who knows how my love grows?

And who knows where the time goes?

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John Ehrenfeld said:

This is a test