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Understanding your habits

Susan Halfpenny introduces this task to analyse your own engagement with digital technology.
A large fortified building (perhaps a palace or monastery) emerges from the screen of a mobile phone.
© University of York (author: Susan Halfpenny)

If we are going to consider our digital wellbeing, a useful first step is to reflect on your own interactions with technology, media, and digital communications. We need to gain a better understanding of our own habits if we’re to assess the extent to which those habits are having a positive or negative impact on our emotions, health and relationships.

Recent surveys both in America and Britain have indicated that the average adult spends just over 22 hours online per week (Ofcom, 2019a; Ofcom, 2019b; Center for the Digital Future, 2018). At a first glance this seems like a lot of time, but when you put this in the context of a 168 hour week it seems perhaps a little low. The question asked in both instances was “How many hours in a typical week would you say you spend online at home / at your workplace or place of education / anywhere else?”. It would seem that the respondents took this to mean active online engagement, but subsequent questions in the surveys highlight other aspects of online engagement which may not have been considered in the first instance: media, gaming, streaming, multimedia content, etc. If we take these things into account then the time spent online significantly increases. Perhaps we need to rephrase the question as:

How much time do you spend interacting with digital technologies and online content at home / at you workplace or place of education / anywhere else?

Following the coronavirus, the majority of us have had a significant increase in screen time: working or studying remotely has increased our work screen time; unable to visit friends and family we rely more on social media and video calls to stay connected and living under lockdown; nights out have been replaced with online alternatives such as streamed television or gaming. How has this impacted your habits? Has it helped you draw a line between different digital activities or has it blurred the boundaries more? Has the additional screen time prompted you to purposefully take time out offline?

So let’s reflect over the next week to better understand our habits and the impact current circumstances have had on our ‘screen time’.

Activity: monitoring your time online

Over the next week, try to make a note of your ‘screen time’. That could be using a computer, using a smartphone, or using any other kind of digital technology. We’ll include television and radio in that category, but you might want to count each type of technology separately.

We have put together the following spreadsheet that you can use to log the number of hours you spend using digital technologies and going online:

  • Screen Time Log (you can either make a copy if you have a Google Account, or download a copy as an Excel spreadsheet).

If you have the iOS 12 Screen Time Tool or the Google Digital Wellbeing features on Android you can make use of these to help monitor app and screen usage on your mobile device.

If you don’t want your log to contribute to your usage of technology, you could always take the old-school approach of recording your screen time in a paper diary or notepad (that’s what I’ll be doing)!

We will be considering our records in week two when we explore online/offline balance. In the meantime, why not share you predictions of how much time you spend online in the comments section below?

  • How does your screen time now compare to your pre-pandemic screen time?
  • Which elements have changed most – has screen time for work, communication or entertainment changed most?
  • How do you feel about the increased time online?
  • Do you think that you spend too much time online?
  • Does spending time online or engaging with digital technologies have an impact on wellbeing?
© University of York (author: Susan Halfpenny)
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