High School Student Roundtable: Screen Time and Device Usage

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Part 5: Higher Education Media: Current State of Advertising

We recently sat down with ten high school students from across the United States in an intimate focus group to discuss various topics related to COVID-19 and higher education media topics. You can watch the videos below!

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As the digital generation, Gen Zs spend more time online than any other generation. With content sources shifting from hard print to digital, online is where the information is. Devices that once served a very specific purpose now offer a multitude of services and accessibility to almost any application that connects to the internet. Take for example, the iPod: one of the most revolutionary devices of our time; a device created for simply listening to music. Before long, it was upgraded to offer every possible internet app and service, including video calling and texting. Even devices like E-readers or Gameboys have evolved far past their primary purposes, now allowing users to surf the web as if they were on a desktop computer. This 24/7 accessibility coupled with the ease of digital sharing has resulted in a major increase in the time we spend using our devices and looking at screens.

In the next stage of our high school roundtable discussions we focussed on how COVID 19 has impacted the screen time/device usage amongst high school students.

The closure of public spaces and cancellation of social activities during quarantine have left a majority of people looking for ways to fill their day, students in particular. Most hobbies and activities amongst younger generations focus on social interaction, so being forced to stay at home and avoid direct contact with other people leaves few options. The easiest solution is to get lost in the digital world of social media timelines, viral video rabbit holes and newsworthy trends, all available with one swipe of a screen. “My social media usage has increased, mainly because of convenience. It’s almost like I have muscle memory when my phone is in my hand, I don’t even think about it but it goes to Instagram or something and I don’t even realize  I am doing it until I have done it. It’s increased with the extra free time I have,” said Courtney. 

A majority of participants reported an average of 3-4 hours of screen time per day pre-COVID, and an increase into the 5-7 hour-per-day range during isolation, as tracked by their phones usage report. However, as explained by Julieann, passive engagement accounts for a chunk of that time. “I have been on my phone a lot more than when I was in school because I have more time, but I’m the type of person to play a video or something in the background of what I am actually doing, so there is always something going on and that really increases my ‘screen time’.”

While there were a couple students who did not report much of a rise, a few others reported major leaps into double digit hours-per-day. It’s clear that the lack of alternative options has resulted in an increased reliance on online entertainment, but don’t let the term ‘digital generation’ fool you, Gen Zs are still eager to unplug. They’re often viewed as a technology-reliant audience, but as Camilla explained, the importance of physical engagement is not overlooked. “Personally I have tried to be off my phone more and engaging in things I want to do or things that will benefit me. It can also depend on the mood, some days I’ll feel a little lazy and want to hang out and scroll Instagram, others I am up and trying things like art or cooking.” Mariah also expressed a commitment to limiting screen time and focussing on different hobbies to pass the time. “While my screen time during COVID has increased a little, it hasn’t been bad because I have taken up new hobbies and have been reading a lot so my screen time isn’t too high.”

Almost every student we spoke with acknowledged that they would like to reduce their screen time, but with limited options during COVID, it’s easy to get lost online for hours at a time. However, boredom is not the only driver.

As Aiden explains many apps are used in conjunction with non-digital activities. “Most of my screen time is for music. I will check my feed still but for the most part I have been outside and resided from being on my phone. At least an hour and a half or two hours of my screen time is music because I spend that time each day working out and then have music playing most of the time, depending on what else I’m doing.”

Isolation has also made video-chat platforms a necessity for those looking to stay in close contact with friends and family. “My friends and I use Airtime a lot because you can have multiple friends on at once sharing and watching videos for hours. My airtime alone is 8 hours, which is ridiculous, but I use it all the time to get on with my friends,” said Tamia.

With few other activities available during COVID, this reported boost in screen time/device usage was expected. Most students admit to spending large amounts of time on their phones and social media accounts. While some of it is out of boredom, a majority comes from the convenience and accessibility. Simply put, mobile online platforms are how high school students choose to receive their information and stay in-touch. Any specific ones, you ask? Stay tuned, next up we will narrow down the specific apps, channels and features they focus on.

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