The science of screen time vs. face time, and human connectedness

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill psych professor Barbara L. Fredrickson had an interesting recent piece in the New York Times on what she and research colleagues argues is a concerning downside of "the instant electronic access" provided by smartphones and tablets and the like: "one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people." The theory isn't new, but the science she points to seems to be.


  1. Several years ago, when I was first becoming acquainted with this here internet thing, I read a book called Silicon Snake Oil by Clifford Stoll. At the time I’d just ordered a book from a new company called Amazon, so Stoll’s prediction that there would never be any business conducted via the internet seemed laughable, as did his claim that the internet would ultimately fail.

    One thing that did strike a chord with me, though, was his emphasis on human interaction, and a fear that it was something we might lose. It still seems largely like an unfounded fear, but that’s not to say that there’s not legitimate reason to be concerned about it. I’m glad there’s research being done that looks, objectively I presume, at whether “real life” interactions have real value (said the guy leaving a comment on a blog).

    Related: I looked up Stoll to see what he’s up to these days and found this:

  2. it’ s a lot of guesswork at this time.  The thing that these researchers do not emphasize is that, as real as those impacts can be, they may affect only the current generation.  For a generation that was born into doing business online, it would just be the normal state of affairs.

    That future generation may automatically shift behaviours to spend more time with a smaller subset of the people they know, or they may just grow more distant.  

    Summary: this type of research (or maybe reporting on it) should discuss some of its caveats

  3. If you go back to the early 20th century, or even the 19th, the big complaint was about the urban practice of avoiding eye contact, often assisted by using a newspaper as a shield.

    When I was a kid, the big grownup complaint was about kids reading books all the time. It was a topic of endless complaint and often wry humor. Luckily, no one suggested banning books, at least not wholesale.

    Then came the complaints about kids listening to transistor radios with their single earphones in one ear and totally oblivious. It must have been a nightmare, but it was going to get worse with the Walkman which meant two ears would be isolated.

    What isn’t being mentioned is that for many people, possibly most, dealing with other people is work, sometimes hard work. It can be mentally exhausting or at best distracting. If you walk to work or take a bus or subway, you might have to connect with hundreds or even thousands of people. Sure, this has its health benefits, but it also has its costs.

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