All Plugged In: Mobile Screen Time on the Rise

Fight-or-flight mode: The Internet follows you everywhere, it's all your fault, and there's nowhere to hide. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Sensors, Big Data and Mobile: Enabling the digital capture of human activity and nature's beauty, but hopefully not more selfies. (NZswissmedia/ThinkStock)
Photo: NZswissmedia/ThinkStock Sensors, Big Data and Mobile: Enabling the digital capture of human activity and nature's beauty, but hopefully not more selfies.

The next time a friend complains about America's overload of screen time, break out this reassuring statement: "At least we're not Indonesia."

According to popular Internet analyst Mary Meeker—who delivers a State of the Internet presentation at the Code conference each year—Americans spend a disturbing significant chunk of time in front of screens relative to their global neighbors: We rank second in overall TV watching, tie for 16th in both laptop and desktop use as well as tablet use, and, at 2 hours and 31 minutes per day, rank 13th in smartphone use.

These stats pale in comparison to the Indonesians, who nearly sweep every category. Thanks to an absolute explosion in tablet usage, Indonesians lead the way in daily distribution of mobile-device screen minutes with a cumulative average of 4 hours and 51 minutes. Per day. Here's hoping they also lead the way in unlimited data plans.

Why so much phone screen time? According to Meeker, the phone is rapidly replacing other technologies as the primary Web portal. Global mobile traffic as a percentage of total Internet traffic jumped from 15 percent to 25 percent within the past year, an increase of 81 percent. The future, she says, holds more of the same—with a temporal twist.

Increased mobile usage doesn't necessarily have only negative implications. 

In response to the old fear that screen time is slowly turning us into anxious mush, Meeker notes that many are giving purpose to the modifier "mobile" in "mobile phone," turning to big data and sensors to make mobile usage a more active, real-world experience. Rather than focus solely on driving traffic, the purpose of the Internet will be sourcing and distributing data showing and emphasizing how we live our offline lives, along the lines of Google's Nest, Fitbit, and (for better or worse) Tinder. Instead of drawing us in and keeping us there, mobile has the potential to support real-life activity and process data that helps us live more efficiently and knowledgeably.

All that said, nothing improves the quality of our screen time quite like getting away from them.

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