We’re all addicted to our screens.
You’ve seen the articles and anecdotes, and it’s for sure a thing to be aware of. Ride a bike! Walk outside! That stuff rules, but this isn’t a moralizing panic-piece.
This is about how things are better than they seem.
In the infinity of the internet, it’s easy to separate theory from practice. It’s important to remember that people speculated in the 1930’s that television could replace school. Why, with such instant knowledge-boxes, what could limit our personal growth?
Simple. We could limit that. Learning is boring.
That effect doubles down when you get the internet. Wikipedia is a fountain of knowledge. Google lets you find anything. But do you really want to learn tons of languages? Learning is hard. Netflix is easy.
Humanity, as a whole, prefers the easy. But listen, listen, listen: it’s bad and dumb to fault humanity for not living up to its unrealistic hopes. Humans have always been like this. We just ever had the tools for this. People were staring at fires, then books, then televisions for as long as history has let them. It’s unfair to wax poetic about a past we never had to live through.
Second, and most importantly, humans care less about screens than you think.
They care about people.
Yes, people. The missing link in all these articles. People love to talk about how screens are replacing people, but are they? Can they?
I say they can’t.
Let’s briefly break down four of the most popular uses of screens. The first titanically, is pornography. Next, I’d argue, would be social media. The third would be games, either defined as fantasy sports, video-games, and the accompanying apps. The fourth would be television and fifth would be texting.
First, porn. People doing people. It’s the virtual version of our most prized past-time, sure, but it needs people. Or the semblance of personhood. Or, uh, whatever it is you’re in to. But it fetishizes humanity, at least, in some form.
Second, social media. This one is a slam dunk. People want to engage! That’s thrilling, exciting and comforting. In a world of infinities, people care about each other. And, even if you argue people just want followers, guess what? They want attention and social credit. That’s still deeply human, even if it mirrors our tragic flaws.
Third, games. I remember vividly enjoying video games. I also vividly enjoyed playing with friends: Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers, or even Halo was a golden opportunity to see friends, to get pizza, to have a sleepover, to hang out. I had a Sunday routine for a while of playing pick-up football then video-games. Life and screens enhanced each other. And, even alone, the joy is playing online. Being yelled at by a 12 year old on Xbox live isn’t ideal, but it’s human. Competition against a computer isn’t the same. It’s the humanity that makes it a game. Except for Candy Crush.
Fourth: TV. Fair. But even that has a social component. Do you remember watching Lost with friends and discussing it? Talking about Breaking Bad at a party because, thank God, now you have something to talk about? Watching a show or a movie as an excuse to hook up or hang out or even decompress with others? Of course. TV has taken a fundamental role in our humanity.
Five, texting. Are you serious? People city.
So yes, screens are central. And we spend too much time on them. But humanity, at its central, is still at the core. And that should bring you some comfort.