Belfast Telegraph

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Why we really need to take a digital detox!


A new Ofcom report has claimed that adults spend almost half their day checking social media, watching TV or playing video games. We asked two writers to come clean about their time online.

Alex Kane: ‘I wake at 6.30am and go to bed at midnight ... about half my day is in front of a screen’

The first thing I do when I wake up, apart from a silent thanks for still being alive and a quick glance to see if Indy (our one-year-old) is sleeping, is lift my mobile, put in the earpiece to listen to Good Morning Ulster and then trawl through the newspaper front pages online.

As a columnist and commentator I need to know what's happening, as well as calculating if I'm likely to get a call from a programme or paper wanting some background to a particular story.

Sadly, it's all downhill after that. For reasons I've never entirely understood, I find myself drawn to the trending section and then reading whole timelines about contestants from Love Island and Britain's Got Talent - programmes I don't even watch.

A passing headline - something like 'World's Fattest Cat Picks Winning Lottery Numbers' - takes me off on another direction entirely and before I know it I've ended up, by way of a torturous process of travelling from one link to another, reading a piece about why drinking a mixture of pee and peppermint tea will increase my libido. (It doesn't work).

Then it's a switch over to my Twitter account (I don't use Facebook or any other social media sites) to see what people are saying.

Because I'm lucky enough to have a number of radio/television/newspaper outlets for my views, I make a point of trying to answer as many questions as I can.

If people have taken the time to read a column or listen to me somewhere, as well as taking the time to follow me online, I think I owe it to them to respond to reasonable questions or consider their counter arguments.

My only insistence is that all exchanges remain civil and bad language is avoided.

I also use my Twitter account for a lot of personal stuff about my own background (adoption, my struggle to communicate, our four miscarriages, being a much older dad and the sheer joy of my children - much of which I've written about in the Belfast Telegraph). I'm always aware of the dangers of over-sharing, but as someone who was very shy and lacking in confidence for so much of my life, I know from the huge responses to the personal pieces that people have both appreciated them and been helped by them.

A few years ago Lilah-Liberty, my middle child, persuaded me to put a few games apps on my phone. I restricted her to a maximum of 45 minutes a day.

Stupidly, I didn't place the same restriction on myself: consequently I began to binge on Pac-Man and on some car race nonsense in which I seemed to spend my entire time going backwards while hurling graphic obscenities at my mobile.

The game apps have all been deleted. I told Lilah-Liberty she'd have to wait until she got a part-time job and bought her own phone; but she now borrows her sister's or disappears under her duvet with one of the laptops.

I'm sure we should restrict use of all this tech: but Megan (19) is too big to control and Lilah-Liberty (almost 9) is mostly too fast to catch.

Indy, meanwhile, has worked out the purpose of the TV remote, although hasn't yet worked out how to match the number buttons with his favourite programmes. It's only a matter of time before he stops replacing Ben and Holly with the Parliamentary channel and then howling the place down.

I spend between two and three hours a day writing on a laptop.

Occasionally I need to find a reference or check something in particular and that means Google. The problem is, that while I'm supposedly trying to find something about an election result in 1972, I end up on a site about Sherlock Holmes or the cast of Neighbours (the only soap I watch). Last week I spent almost an hour - having seen one of those How Long Will You Live pop-up advertisements - trying to match my age, weight, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle with the day I was likely to pop my socks. I was left hoping that either my maths or their statistics were wrong.

So, how much time do I spend in front of a screen of one sort or another? Three hours writing on a laptop (columns and opinion pieces). Two hours on Twitter. One hour on emails and texts (mostly work related). And a couple of hours on film or TV.

That's eight hours. I wake around 6.30am and go to bed about midnight; which means that about half my day is in front of a screen.

That's actually quite scary and I really should cut back. Hang on! My goodness me, I've just seen a headline about a dancing spaniel which can help cure my insomnia. I'll finish this piece later...

Karen Ireland: ‘I’m always checking feeds to see what is being said and if people have a story to tell’

Total daily screen time: 8 hours

I have never really thought about how much time I spend online until I was asked to think about it for this article. I know my family would argue I am always online in some shape or form but in my defence, I have always said I need to be for work.

But do I really? The last thing I do at night before I go to sleep is check my phone. I have it beside my bed and if I can't sleep I will be on it during the night at stupid o'clock talking to others in the same sleep deprived boat.

I have to admit, I got a shock when I started to weigh up how much time I spend online.

Yes, work is my excuse - as a journalist some of my best ideas and contacts come from Facebook and Twitter.

I'm constantly reading feeds and comments to see what people are up to and if they have a story to tell.

I read blogs, articles and news feeds to keep up to date with news and happenings. Well that's what I tell myself and anyone else who asks.

But, am I just nosey and afraid of missing out on something? Or is it just a habit I have got into?

Then, often when I'm checking emails, flash sales will appear from some of my favourite shops and I find myself wandering onto these sites and doing some window shopping, and if the sale is good I will also shop online.

I admit that I am on first name terms with the parcel delivery guy!

But I do need to keep up to date for work and I constantly read what is going on in the world and make new contacts.

Do I really need to be doing it 24/7 and what sort of example am I setting my three sons who I constantly berate for being on their phones all the time?

My mobile is never out of reaching distance. I never leave the house without it even just to go to the shop.

Am I addicted to an online world? I hope not. I'm not a big sharer so I don't tend to spend nights out putting my personal business all over the internet.

My other half doesn't do social media of any kind and doesn't understand my constant need to be checking up on the world.

As well as work, I use social to keep in touch with good friends. My best friend, Aine, moved to Australia with her husband and five sons a few years ago and we use Facebook messenger to catch up and have a chat every week.

I'd be lost without that contact as I miss her dearly and we check in on each other late at night for me and early morning for her every weekend.

I also chat to other friends who live that little bit further away or who I don't see often.

I was amazed a few weeks ago when it was my birthday at the amount of people who took the time out to wish me a happy birthday or to private message me.

The cards have got fewer over the years but the well wishes more and I have to admit it was a nice feeling knowing that so many people took time out to contact me.

I'm not very good at checking on whose birthday it is and sending messages.

I also go online a lot to listen to music. I will hear a song on the radio or be in the mood to listen to a certain band and I will go on YouTube to watch their videos.

So, I guess that racks up my online time too but I am usually doing something else as well as listening to the music - so does that really count?

Writing this has made me think about the amount of time I do flit between Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and my emails.

It is, I have to admit, a lot.

What's the worst that could happen if I didn't check them for a few hours? Well, I might just miss out on that post which would lead to my next story idea or a vital email from the editor commissioning me to think about how I am spending my time.

My resolve therefore is to try and spend less time online at nights and weekends - apart from my chats with friends.

To spend more time focusing on those around me and less on contacts on my phone. To meet long-lost friends and family for coffee and to spend proper quality time with them.

Now, I just need to Whatsapp them to meet up...

What the communications report found

  • 78% of people own a smartphone
  • Among 18-24 year olds, this figure is 95%
  • The average adult looks at their mobile every 12 minutes
  • 60% of over 35 year olds look at their phone five minutes before bed
  • Women spend more time online than men
  • 6 in 10 could not live without their smartphones
  • Two in five adults look at their phone within five minutes of waking up
  • 92% think that browsing the web is important
  • Almost half admitted spending too long online
  • Half said their lives would be boring without the internet
  • Two-thirds said the internet was essential to their lives
  • Adults spent on average 24 hours online per week
  • Seven in 10 are glued to their phones on their journey to work

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