Screen use is a broad term. It’s used to describe every interaction with a screen. However, there are many different ways to use a screen. You could use a TV to watch a movie or show on Netflix. You use a laptop to write emails, meet with clients, and complete projects. You could use a phone to talk with friends and play games.
Many people focus on how many hours someone is on screens as an indicator of problematic screen use. If someone spends 8-10 hours on a device, many would think they have a problem.
I argue that it’s what type of screen use that is the indicator for problems.
Examples of Different Types of Screen Use
Let’s take a 24-year-old spending 8 hours a day on devices. They are responding to emails, completing work assignments, and communicating with colleagues.
After that they complete 8 hours of work, they turn off their devices, spend time with family in the physical world, and decompress with a good book.
They are able to walk away from screen use. They use screens to add value to their lives through their work. They don’t have a problem, they have a job.
Let’s take another scenario where that same 24-year-old spends 8-hours a day on devices but in a different way. They spend 8 hours playing video games, watching YouTube videos about their favorite streamer, and watching the latest episode of WandaVision.
After 8 hours, they don’t spend time with family and don’t enjoy anything outside of a screen. They neglect their responsibilities and their screen use interferes with their relationships, work, and overall well-being.
They don’t feel screens are adding value to their lives. They have a problem.
These two examples express the importance of understanding types of screen use. I think there are four main categories all screen use falls into:
Productive Screen Use
Productive screen use is anything you’re doing online, or on a device, that is inherently productive.
Education and work fall in this category such as online school and work which has to be completed on a device.
Anything you learn online is productive screen time such as watching a YouTube video to learn how to refinish some old furniture or asking Google who the actor is in that one movie.
Being productive is great. Humans are built to work and enjoy productivity. Screens are fantastic at helping us be more efficient and more productive. Here are some examples of Productive screen use:
Conference calls through Zoom
Learning something on YouTube
Any job that has to be done on a device
Can Productive Screen Use Become a Problem?
Example 1 describes productive screen use. The 24-year-old who works on a device for 8 hours a day is using screens to complete their responsibilities. It's adding good value to their life.
However, if this 24-year-old neglected their friends and family, had no other hobbies, and only worked online, then that is a problem.
Anyone who is a “workaholic” can abuse this type of screen use and screens can be viewed as a problem. The screen use isn’t the problem, it’s the person’s desire to constantly work and be productive that is causing unbalance in their lives.
Productive screen use is good. However, just like too much work or productivity, productive screen use can cause problems if people are neglecting other priorities and relationships for to sake of work.
If that is the case, look to address the desire to work at all costs rather than addressing the screen use.
Entertainment Screen Use
Entertainment screen use is anything revolving around fun and entertainment such as video games and movies.
This type of screen use is all about leisure and relaxing. If the purpose of our time online is to be entertained in some way, it’s Entertainment screen use.
YouTube can be used to be productive, however, most of the time it’s used for entertainment. There is no real purpose with our time on YouTube besides to have fun and prevent from catching the dreadful condition known as boredom.
Unless you are Ninja and your career is playing video games, video games are entertainment.
There are around 2.7 billion gamers in the world and around 90% of them use games for recreation and a fun past-time.
Some other examples of Entertainment screen use are as follows:
Movie and TV streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney +
Gaming and streaming content from Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and InstaGib tv
Gambling sites like Red Dog Casino and Poker Stars
Can Entertainment Screen Use Become a Problem?
Too much Entertainment screen use can cause problems. When someone neglects their responsibilities and other areas in their life in order to do entertaining things online, their screen use is a problem.
Video game and social media companies design their products to keep people spending as much time as possible on their platforms.
The more time we spend playing a game, the more likely we will spend money in that game. The more time we spend on Instagram, the more adds we see and the more money Instagram gets.
An Uphill Battle
It can be very hard to do other things besides online entertainment because of how rewarding those platforms are.
Gamers are incentivized to play video games daily to get a reward. Auto-play and recommended videos makes it so easy to watch countless hours of your favorite content. Social media sites show you content you will like based on browsing history.
Online entertainment is design to be addicting.
In Example 2, the 24-year-old spending 8 hours a day gaming, watching TV, and neglecting their responsibilities is engaged in problematic screen use.
Many times, people spending most of their time on entertainment platforms have internal struggles they need to work through.
Video games could be used to escape problematic relationships. YouTube could be a way to distract ourselves from feeling insecure about our ability to complete homework or pass a class. Social media can be a way to cope with social anxiety or fear of rejection.
Screen use of any kind becomes problematic if we are consistently using screens to cope with problems and challenges rather than working through them.
Entertainment screen use is a good thing and can add great value to one’s life. However, because of how addicting online entertainment is, problems can arise.
Entertainment screen use can help us relax, unwind, learn, and play. These are all good things. Just like Productive screen use, we need to have a healthy balance with how much entertainment we are experiencing.
Social Screen Use
Social screen use is when we interact with others online.
This category can share similar activities as Productive and Entertainment screen use.
We are productive when we send an email to a business colleague and we are entertained when we talk with friends while playing a video game.
We are social creatures and the Internet helps facilitate communication and relationships.
Here are some examples of Social screen use:
Social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter
Chat forums like Reddit
Can Social Screen Use Cause Problems?
Similar to Productive and Entertainment, Social screen use causes problems when it becomes unbalanced. If we are neglecting our responsibilities, relationships, and our well-being due to online socialization, there is an issue.
If we are failing academically or work performance is dropping due to socializing online, it’s an issue. If we are becoming sad, depressed, anxious, or angry due to online socialization, we should make some changes.
However, if we are using online social platforms to enhance and add value to our lives, then it’s a healthy and good thing.
Erotic Screen Use
Erotic screen use are activities and interactions focused on sex. Pornography, sexting, and online dating all fall in this category.
Humans are sexual beings and the Internet can be an attempt to fulfill sexual desires. Many online erotic experiences are problematic, however, if you are in a loving committed relationship, sexting and erotic online interactions can be a positive ways to enhance your relationship.
Online dating can be a great way to find a healthy relationship. It's something many people use these days to find love.
Here are examples of Erotic screen use:
Video games where players can have sex
Can Erotic Screen Use Cause Problems?
Pornography can cause problems for many people. Porn creates an unrealistic expectation of sex. Porn objectifies women and men. Porn creates a false sense of intimacy with others.
Although it's a controversial idea, porn-induced erectile dysfunction could also be a problem for men.
Pornography can get in the way of healthy, committed relationships. If a couple's sex life is not great, they might individually go to porn, or another person, to fulfill sexual desires. Relying on porn prevents the partners from working through their sex life problems.
Porn can also be addicting. We can visually experience many different sexual encounters which can feel really good. The more porn we view, the more we will want to use porn.
If you are in a committed relationship and you use Erotic screen use to improve the relationship, that's a good thing.
If you are in a committed relationship but you are using Erotic screen use to find comfort outside of your relationship, it's not a good thing.
Our screen use is a balancing act. It’s about balancing Productive, Entertainment, Social, and even Erotic screen use to add the most value to our lives.
Our quality of life will improve the more we find balance with those three areas of screen use. We might not always get it right, but that’s okay. We are allowed to spend too much time working one day then recharge with a long video call with our friends.
Screen use is not bad. A certain type of screen use is not bad. It’s how we interact with screens that can cause problems. Enjoy your screen use today and seek to have an overall balanced experience.