QuaranScreen: Community racks up screen time


Yin Fei, Staff Writer

10 hours and 44 minutes. That was the screen time of a senior on May 24th.

In an already increasingly digital world, the COVID-19 quarantine has ushered in an uptick in how long community members are spending on their devices. Many students and faculty members stuck at home are reporting cases of pounding headaches and strained eyes as a consequence of their daily dose of technology.

“Regardless of whether we’re in the pandemic or not, screens are definitely having a negative impact on all of us, as that’s sort of the world we’re living in,” Deven Shah (12) said. “But the effects are definitely much more significant right now than they would have otherwise been.”

As options for partaking in in-person activities are now limited, many find themselves in a similar situation of having to find more stimulation from devices than usual. Gabby Chong’s (10) phone’s screen time has jumped to an average of 10 hours on most days, she said.

“My phone and other devices are what is ultimately helping me to cope during such a tough situation,” Chong said. “Boredom plays a role as well, because, other than school work, there is only so much you can do at home, which is why I often choose to play games or go on some of the apps I have.”

However, the introduction of HM Online classes has also been a main factor for heightened screen exposure as students transition away from in-person learning to Zoom.

“In class, people wouldn’t really be on electronics as much, but now everything is online,” Elyse Gay (11) said. The frequency of Zoom classes means that a significant portion of Gay’s days must be spent on screens, she said.

“I used to write everything basically in notebooks, but now I’m using a laptop for every class,” Alex Barr (12) said. “I’m constantly on my screen unless I’m eating a meal.”

Even without any Zoom meetings on a given day, Jiyon Chatterjee (9) said that with most of his work conducted through a digital format, a majority of his recorded screen time is still attributed to academics.

“There’s proof of [the rise] with the new screen time functions on the iPhone, which has shown me that it’s up by 60%,” he said. “It’s because I’m continuously looking at my laptop, checking FirstClass, doing Zoom calls, and writing essays.”

Faculty members are also facing challenges from looking at their screens during remote education. Visual Arts Department Chair Dr. Anna Hetherington said HM Online has been a radical adjustment because her profession typically requires the usage of a large screen rather than a small laptop.

Hetherington also said she believes that the weariness she is experiencing stems from the effort and energy one needs in order to be fully engaged with people through the barrier of a fixed screen.

“There’s a multiplicity of attention-seeking on the screen,” she said. “You might be speaking to me, but you might have four other things open that you’re also looking at which means that your focus is split.”

As a result of the shift to virtual learning, many are feeling a burden on their physical wellness and mental health. Using a screen with unnatural light on your face at strange times throughout the day has the possibility to disrupt our current lifestyles, Psychologist Dr. Ian Pervil said. Though this might not be the sole reason, amongst all other confounding causes that could change someone’s mood, there is definitely a relationship between screen time and emotion, he said.

“When we have access to so much more information, we can get stuck in a cycle of being presented with things that make us both anxious, and also less anxious at the same time,” Pervil said. “Looking at the news, for example, or the things around us [on screens] make us kind of crave or need some fulfillment that, when we get it, could end up making us even more sad or depressed.”

To distract herself from the current need for social-distancing, Sunshine Quinones (10) has tried to be more active on her phone, which also causes her to experience chronic and recurring headaches along with other vision-related issues, she said.

“I wouldn’t usually FaceTime or interact on social media as much, but now I am forced to when I want to communicate,” Quinones said. “By relying on my phone to be stimulated, I am having more frequent and intense pain than I usually do on a day to day basis.”

According to the American Optometric Association website, Computer Vision Syndrome is the formal name for characteristics describing a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged use of an electronic device. Some of the symptoms listed on their website include headaches, blurred vision, sleep deprivation, and dry eyes, which people, in addition to Quinones, have experienced from their recent spike in screen time.

“Every day I’m getting red eyes, so I have to put eye drops in,” Chatterjee said. “Especially my left eye tends to get really red, which is quite a noticeable impact,” he said.

One popular trend that Gay has also witnessed is that many people have been buying special glasses, in an attempt to reduce irritation that the emission of blue light has on one’s vision, she said.

“I didn’t get them because I didn’t think they would be effective, so [blue light] does come on straight in my eyes, and I’ve had to take a lot of breaks in between classes,” Gay said.

Shah, who bought blue light glasses before school started, said he had decided it was a worthwhile purchase, given how much time he already spent on screens. Now, the filter seems to prove especially helpful in the protection of his vision, he said.

“I definitely found it easier to sleep after staring at a screen whilst wearing them,” Shah said. “I also haven’t actually noticed any problems with my eyes.”

Due to the repercussions for their health, multiple students and teachers have also been inspired to look beyond their screens, as well as to discover alternative methods, other than blue light glasses, that will better protect themselves from its harm.

Hetherington began using night shift lighting on her screens, which is a feature on devices that reduces the amount of blue light emitted, she said. “[It] has made my screen pretty orange, which took a few days to adjust to, but has really helped because I was getting severe screen fatigue.”

“I’m trying to intentionally stay away from devices a bit more on weekends just because I’ve been doing so much during the week,” Shah said. “It’s sort of reactionary because there’s only so much YouTube and Netflix you can watch before you really just need to talk to someone or move around.”