Education

Screen time: the reason students are so unproductive?

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‘Last week I spent 79 hours on my phone…’ admitted Sarah*, a 20 year old student currently studying at university.

Whilst smartphone addiction is thought to be common in young people, Apple’s iOS 12 update, which allows phone users to now track their ‘Screen Time,’ has revealed some unhidden truths about the sheer extent to which we use our phones.

I knew that students spent an unjustified amount of time on their mobile devices, but 79 hours? 79 hours?! That amounts to 11.2 hours per day. With the average student being awake for just over 15.5 hours a day, the time Sarah spent on her phone makes up roughly 73% of her week.

I was truly shocked. How does she have time to do anything else? When does she eat? How does she have time to study? Was it even possible to spend this long on one’s phone?

Yet, with one friend who has currently downloaded an app that forces her to have a phone detox, and another who is actually scared to turn on her Screen Time as she doesn’t want to face the reality of how much time she spends on her mobile device in the first place, one has to ask whether Sarah is really abnormal?’

The rise of Nomophobia (No Mobile Phone Phobia) has revealed that 66% of people in the UK have some type of anxiety if separated from their cellular device. You may be reading this and thinking that you are one of the 34% that doesn’t fall into this category. But, think about it, when was the last time you went somewhere without your phone? You are probably reading this article on your mobile right now. How long prior to this moment have you spent on your phone? Is this time when you should have been doing something else? Were you even conscious that you are on your mobile at this very moment?

This addiction is particularly prevalent amongst students. It takes just a quick glance around my university library at all the students ‘studying’ to alert me to the fact that Sarah may not be alone. On my table of 8 students, each had their phone beside them as they worked. Each also spent a considerable amount of time continuously glancing as their mobiles, or picking up their devices when the screen flashed a notification. These continuous breaks in their concentration meant that despite spending a large period of time in the library, the actual time spent on their work was quite minimal. The same goes for eating out in restaurants. I noticed that most individuals enter the restaurant, drape their coat on their chair, sit down, and then immediately proceed to take their phone out of their bag and place it on the table in front of them.

Admittedly in today’s digital age it is reasonable to argue that it is hard to be without one’s phone. Most students use their device as an alarm in the morning, there are apps for almost anything we want to do, and instant messaging and group chats means our phones are our prominent source of social interaction.  There is continuously a feeling that if we aren’t online then we are missing out.

Yet, what impact is this continuous attachment to our phones having on our education? Staring at a screen at night prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, a chemical that is important for our natural sleep cycle. It is reported in 2014 that 70% of college students are not getting enough sleep each night which in turn leads to a decline in performance of certain cognitive functions that are essential to one’s process of learning. Most importantly, my last week of observing the interaction between students and their phones whilst they study, has evidently shown that a profound amount of time is spent watching their screens rather than their books. Interestingly most don’t even realise they do this. Picking up their phones every 5 minutes seems to be a subconscious movement, leading many to falsify the actual amount of time that they spend studying.

So the next time you think you don’t have enough time to complete an assignment, or if you are having a particularly unproductive day, turn off you phone and see what happens…

*name changed for privacy

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