Reflecting on COVID-19: is the virus affecting our relationship with our screens?
As we are gradually moving out of national lockdown, I have reflected on how our daily habits may have changed. It is probably not surprising to see that my average screen time has risen over the past few months, and am sure is not uncommon across the country. This is understandable - people have had much more time to catch up on TV dramas, re-watch old favourites and scroll endlessly through social media on our phones.
One of the platforms that seems to have become a household essential is Netflix, as subscriber numbers have soared to 182.8 million. Disney+ is also another way people have been passing the time, spending £5.99 per month to watch classic Disney films and more recent revivals. These platforms have been lifesavers for many people, as being absorbed into the world of technology is a way to pass the time and occupy our minds whilst we are living through such uncertainty.
However, I believe there is a darker reality behind our newfound relationship with our screens. What are the consequences of this new relationship, and will it continue after the pandemic has ended?
Becoming part of the 'norm'
During lockdown, our 'normal' routines have inevitably encouraged us to spend a certain amount of time a day in front of a screen. This isn't such a problem whilst we are house bound, but what does it mean following the end of the lockdown? I fear that watching TV, scrolling through Instagram and binging series' will become a part of our daily lives when everything goes back to normal. Sure, watching something on TV can be a great way to relax of an evening after a long days work, but research has shown that multiple hours with a screen can be detrimental to our health. With the end of lockdown in sight, will people continue to use their screens as a distraction, or will we take advantage of our access to green spaces, socialising with friends, and taking holidays?
Isolating ourselves from reality
What we see on social media, watch on TV or see in films is often not a reflection of reality. Whilst many of us have probably wanted to escape the reality the world has faced in recent months, I feel it is important that we don't begin to focus too heavily on the fictional world these channels offer us, but stay engaged with what is happening away from our screens in order to ensure we remain aware of how we are controlling the pandemic. If watching a screen is going to become a part of your family routine, maybe it would be beneficial to use this time to scroll through a news app, or watch BBC breakfast over your cornflakes, instead of watching Netflix for hours on end.
Ticktock is another platform that has become a global phenomenon during recent months, where users create short videos for their followers in the hope of becoming 'Ticktock famous'. However, I feel there is a more sinister undertone to the app, as I have heard more and more people claiming they are becoming 'addicted' to the app. This addiction is frightening, as people are turning to scrolling as a reflex when they are bored instead of doing something else, such as reading or exercising, to occupy themselves.
Distancing ourselves from the outside world
People are using social media to stay engaged with their friends and keep in contact with others, yet there is an irony to this - whilst we sit behind a screen, we are becoming more and more socially isolated and therefore distancing ourselves from the community. It seems that using social channels to stay in contact whilst we have been asked to socially isolate and, currently, remain socially distanced, could be having the opposite affect.
The post-pandemic world
Communicating via a screen prioritises a form of communication that humans are not naturally inclined to adopt. Prior to the rise of technology and the advancements it has made, communicating with people who were not in the immediate vicinity was incredibly limited, but now we are able to chat to people on the other side of the world at the mere click of a finger. It’s easy to forget that there’s a virtual barrier between us and the person we’re talking to when using our devices to communicate: a barrier that perhaps obstructs our ability to talk directly with that person. This is incredibly helpful when facing the situation we found ourselves in this year, as not only are we physically separated from our friends and family, we must adopt strict social distancing rules, which technology allows us to do perfectly. But what about after the pandemic has ended? The non-verbal ways we can communicate face-to-face, such as the use of hand gestures and facial expressions, are missing in the online conversations we are having now. Could the pandemic mean people will become even more conditioned to communicating via a screen that the traditional person-to-person contact will become a social anxiety that many shy away from? It is undeniable that communicating personally with people gives us the opportunity to develop more meaningful connections, yet as our digital profiles evolve during this climate, our ability to form personable connections may become more difficult. And yet, it may be that such communication will become the new normal whilst we continue to fight this pandemic. We may have to replace the close physical contact we were used to with this new form of communication, as using a screen may be the only way we are safe from spreading the coronavirus.
Technology is a part of modern day living in the 21st century, and has become vital for encouraging people to stay in touch and guarantee the publication of current news during the unprecedented health crisis. However, I believe it is vital that we spare a few minutes away from your phones, laptops, iPads and TVs, for the benefit of our own physical and mental health. The problems tied to using technology to communicate were present before the coronavirus outbreak, yet it may just make our relationship with our screens all the more pressing.