Every Sunday when I wake up I receive a notification on my phone. “Screen time weekly report available.” I dread this message. Once I’ve woken up and sat down at my computer, a similar message assails me. The byline that follows each notification includes a number — a large one that I am not particularly proud of — detailing exactly how much time I spent on that device over the past week.
When I put these two numbers together, I see my entire day laid out before my eyes. An average of six hours a day on my phone and eight on my laptop — almost all of my waking day is encapsulated by my collective screentime, and I don’t know what to do about it.
While I know this is quite the fruitless endeavor, the idea of screen liberation haunts me like a wistful memory. I often think back to my childhood, when I would go days on end without glancing at a screen and face no consequences. I’d sit down with a book and not recognize the time that had passed until the sun had set and pitched me into darkness.
After so many days sitting on my couch, looking out the window as the world melts away before my eyes, it has begun to feel like I am living my own life vicariously. In an attempt to change something, I recently set a goal for myself to cut back on my screen time. I have not made much progress, with the exception that I’m now acutely aware of just how reliant on my laptop I’ve become.
I’m not quite sure anymore if it is the screen itself that weighs me down or the responsibilities it holds. Even if we wanted to, there is no real way in our current state to go screen-free without making drastic changes to our lives. My classes, my job and even my friends — they’re all locked away in the confines of my 13-inch Macbook.
When I do manage to snap my laptop shut, how do I reward myself? I turn on the television, grab my phone or boot up a video game. Some days I’ll resolve to spend more time outside or pursue a non-digital hobby, but these ambitions end up quickly abandoned with a glance at my email inbox.
At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised. As I’m sure many people do, I currently spend my entire day with my laptop open in front of me. In our current COVID-19 era, the campus is no longer what unifies us. Currently, there are students at the University of Michigan who have never set foot on our physical campus, and what once felt like a cohesive student body now feels disjointed and strange, a broken family of Zoom breakout rooms.
In all of my 13 hours I spend staring at a screen on a daily basis, I don’t get the bustling walk through the Diag. I don’t break down and buy from a student organization in Mason Hall, and I certainly don’t randomly run into people I know. Without these experiences, my screen has become my looking glass: I may spend all day on the internet, but if I didn’t, I’d lose my connections to the rest of the University.
My real campus now is a maze of Canvas pages and Zoom links that serve to bring me at least a little closer to other people; my campus culture exists on discussion boards and PowerPoint slides, illuminated by blue hyperlinks.
Hopefully, there will come a day when my screen time finally returns to a much lower number, and I don’t end my days with my eyes burning and no steps logged. But until that day comes, I navigate the web of our online campus and hope for the best.
Daily Arts Writer Hadley Samarco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.