17 January 2009

Defining Screen Time

Last week, I said I wanted to cut back on screen time. A few days later, I was on the late train home and I picked up a Times and a WSJ left behind by other customers. After some time reading, I started to wonder: how is this different from screen time, when screen time is spent reading "the papers"?

A quick internet search suggests that what many people are thinking of when they say "screen time" is time spent in front of the television, watching network programming or videos, or playing video games. But you can now do all of those things on a computer.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute defines screen time broadly as "screen media time, including TV, DVD, video games, and non-school- or non-work-related computer and Internet use."

The Mate edits video, teaches on-line classes, and watches movies relevant to his work (as an independent filmmaker) on his computer, which is attached to two different monitors, one huge and the other enormous.

I write email messages and syllabi and sometimes even an article, develop on-line course components for traditional as well as hybrid courses, and read email messages.

I also read blogs and news humor sites, play spider solitaire, and play around on Facebook. Clearly these things are "screen time," and it's hard to know how much time I spend doing those things at the computer because it's easy to surf away from work and do something else, especially when I'm writing something that's giving me trouble of one sort or another.

I also read the news, almost exclusively on sites related to print media like The New York Times. I write on this blog. I shop for books and clothing. And I'm not talking about the on-line equivalent of window-shopping: I know what I need and I go to a web site or two and when I find it, I order it. Very utilitarian. But these seem to be gray-area applications. Screen time of the sort that people say leads to idiocy and obesity? Even if I'm reading people's blogs, how different is that from reading a magazine, of whatever intellectual stripe?

Update: Now, someone's come up with software that lets you surf the internet on your idiot box. This is the sort of thing that gives me technology fatigue: what I wrote this morning is out of date by evening.