By Clara Weber
Since I started Euroculture, the screen time on my phone has increased to several hours a day, depending on the day of the week. Calling my parents and my sister regularly, talking to Euroculture friends from former semesters, and putting effort in trying to keep in touch with friends from my Bachelor’s, my Erasmus, and from school and childhood. Studying an Erasmus Mundus Master’s is amazing and it gives you the unique opportunity to meet innumerable new people from all over the world each semester. However, this also means that the list of friends and people you would like to stay in touch with grows very fast and becomes longer and longer. On top of that, I use Instagram more often to share my adventures with all of my friends and to see what my friends far away are doing. Since there is not enough time to talk to everyone regularly, Instagram is a convenient way to keep track of what your friends are doing. But still, it is another application that glues me to my phone. Next to social media, I use Google Maps every day because I am new to the city, and also Google Translate has become my daily friend in order to communicate in foreign languages in Euroculture cities (especially during my semester in Japan where I really did not understand anything).
According to statistics, the average person worldwide spends 6 hours and 57 minutes per day staring at screens (for free-time internet-connected activities on phones, tablets, laptops and tv). Most of that time (3 hours, 43 minutes) is spent on a mobile device. Even though the screen time of younger people is even much higher, each generation spends over a month on their phones each year. Furthermore, the average person checks their screens on average 110 times a day, or in other words 9 times per hour. For millennials, it is even 150 times a day.
Usually, we cannot accurately say how much time we spend in front of our screens. Think about it for a moment. We wake up, and most of the time the very first thing we do in the morning is to check our phone, we carry it with us the whole day, and often the last thing we do before falling asleep is checking our WhatsApp messages one last time. Compared to the screen time I had during my Bachelor’s studies when I could simply see all my friends in real life and there was no need for Google Maps and Translate, I realised especially during my third semester in Japan how much Euroculture has made me use my phone every day. Moreover, I also became aware of the fact that often when I use my phone, I am almost in a ‘zombie’ mode, meaning I pick up my phone to do something as simple as checking the time or something on Google, and then end up scrolling through Instagram already having forgotten why I picked it up in the first place. It feels as if a single pick-up can set a whole chain reaction of screen time. To find out if this only applies to me or to more Euroculture students, I started a little survey with 31 Euroculture students from the cohorts of 2021-2023 and 2022-2024. The results show that 25.8 % spend 2-3 hours, 29 % spend 3-4 hours, and 22.6 % spend 4-5h per day on their mobile phones. 6.5 % indicated that they spend even more than 7 hours per day staring at their phone screens.
Can this in any way be related to Euroculture? 45.2 % of people said that their screen time has increased during Euroculture in comparison to before, and 22.6 % answered that it has maybe increased. Some students indicated that especially long-distance relationships are the main reason for increased screen time.
I was shocked when I realised how much of a lifetime I spend staring at the little screen in my hand. Let’s look at the average Euroculture student of which 29 % spend 3-4 hours a day on his or her phone. That already makes 24.5 hours a week. If you sleep 8 hours per night, you basically spend 1.5 days being awake just looking at the screen of your phone. This makes even 105 hours or around 6.6 days a month, or to put it worse, 79 days a year.
To make matters sound even more shocking, this is only the screen time of your phone. We use phones, laptops, tablets, and tv all the time. Sometimes, there are reasonable justifications like working, studying, or communicating with friends and relatives. However, if you add this extra screen time to the one you spend on your phone, being locked to your devices may easily become your main activity during the day.
It is also interesting to look at the applications that Euroculture students use. The most used applications among us are for communication, such as Whatsapp, Messenger or Telegram. The second most used application is Instagram, and music applications, with Google Maps and Google Search in third place.
Of course, not all the time you spend on your phone is hurting you. Your phone can keep you in touch with family members, partners and friends who live far away, track your daily productivity, and keep you up to date on anything from the next European elections to the newest Euroculture article. However, it’s no secret that your smartphone influences your sleep quality and might reduce your productivity most of the time. Notification beeps can distract you, and social comparison on social media might make you feel worse about your own life. That is why it is so important to develop insights into your digital well-being and engage in self-care by being aware of how much and how frequently you use your devices.
I decided that I do not want to spend 79 days a year on my phone. Of course, I still need my phone, it facilitates my life a lot and I love talking to my friends. But in order to reduce the screen time to a maximum, here are the things that I am going to do and which might be helpful for you as well if we share the same goal.
- Space: This app helps you to keep track of your screen time and all the activities on your phone.
- Freedom: Freedom allows you to set goals and schedule offline time to increase your productivity.
- Offtime: The app helps you to block certain apps and text messages and limits access.
- Forest: The Forest app works by letting you plant a tree, which grows as long as you don’t use social media.
- Space: This app allows you to set screen unlock and time-use goals.
- Turn off the notifications for WhatsApp and Instagram. So you only open the app if you feel like it, but you are not constantly reminded of it because of notifications.
- Set screen time limits in your phone settings and schedules with productive time slots: You can block apps and websites during this time.
- Switch to grayscale: this removes the visual appeal of Instagram, etc.
- Keep your phone out of the bedroom and don’t charge it next to your bed. In that way, you don’t spend time on it before going to sleep and it also improves your sleep quality.
- Call a friend instead of sending a thousand (voice) messages.
- Always have a small book in your bag so next time you are on the train or waiting for a friend or the bus, you can read a little bit instead of looking at your phone.
- Create a group chat for your time abroad as a Euroculture student where you keep your family/close friends updated. Instead of sending photos and telling my adventures to people separately, I created a group chat with several family members and close friends. Like this, I can keep them all updated at the same time.
- Regularly checking the screen time to keep yourself controlled.
- To avoid the “zombie mode” (almost automatically opening an application when being on your phone without even really thinking about it) and to make the access to often-used apps more difficult, you can ‘hide’ them in folders. Moreover, Apple even has the function to hide apps which forces you to actively look for them in the search bar in order to open them.
I hope that this article can serve as a little wake-up call for you and a motivation to be more aware of your screen time and the use of social media. If you are interested in reading more about this topic, check out this Euroculture article from my colleague Marta about FOMO (Fear of missing out). She explores the relationship between FOMO, social media, and how Euroculture students are especially vulnerable to this phenomenon.
Cover picture by Rami Al-Zayat