COLM O'REGAN: Screentime — a phrase that has become laden with all sorts of panic

Screentime — a phrase that has become laden with all sorts of panic, writes Colm O’Regan.

It joins Video Nasties, Computer Games, PhoneBox Vandals, Glue, Tippex and many others on the list of things down through the years that Parents Are Terrified About And If They Don’t Do Something People Will Think They’re A Bad Parent.

“I’m trying to reduce their screentime.” The fear is that the child will be some sort of a seven-year-old Gollum whose eyes blaze and bulge when you try to take their device from them. Then they wheedle and entreat before finally attacking you in your sleep with a weaponised teddy in order to force you to hand over the key to the Phone Safe.

Don’t get me wrong — you should totally fear that. But for now at least, the phrase Screentime might have a different connotation. It’s the name of a new App in the Settings bit of an iPhone. It’s unglamorous and prosaic but, never mind the children, it might just change my life.

It arrived in the most recent operating system update on the phone. And I downloaded it straight away.

Normally I don’t download an update to a phone for years. I am suspicious of them, as if they’re the extra black pepper and Parmesan bit of an Italian meal experience. “No I’m grand thanks. It’s fine the way it is.” Eventually I can’t hold out any longer because the phone is saying “Seriously, I’m burning turf here, just download the thing so I can do my job?”

Well I downloaded this update straight away, I can tell you. Because I am addicted to my phone. My right thumb involuntarily makes a scrolling motion. I dreamt of Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. I spent far too much of my life watching two people I don’t know argue online about something I don’t care about and then suddenly I’d taken on all of their bad feelings as well. I needed a bit of control.

I tried various other screentime reducing apps but they lacked the authority of one in built into the phone. As if I’d brought someone to a party who was going to stop me from drinking too many cans but the host was there saying “Ah what harm. Have the one” and before long I’m arguing with a mop.

Well now the host knows I have a problem and is saying

Ah now Colm would you not go easy on the social media, ah do

And I listen. I have a limit of half an hour per day on social media. I can ignore the limit but the phone sort of makes me feel that it’s not angry just disappointed and guilt prevents me from overdoing the ignorance. Even at that, I still pick up my phone about 60 times a day. I shudder to think how often it used to be. I used to pick it up at every moment of boredom, disappointment, happiness, anger … oh right that’s all the emotions. My brain was looking for the dopamine hit of a notification of any type.

Now the bit of my brain that likes to try and better yesterday’s numbers has been triggered. And it doesn’t mean that, freed from my phone I will now finally unlock my potential and become the Taoiseach. But maybe president.

Say in seven years time I’ll be ready to announce my candidature on a platform of the death penalty for people who don’t pick up after their dogs or hang the little black bag on the branch of a tree like a pagan offering.

And Screentime or no Screentime I’m still going to be unproductive and doss at times. But hopefully instead of obsessively scrolling, I will just be staring into space or having imagined arguments with people or getting lost on Wikipedia or worrying about my children getting at the Tippex. You know, just like the good old days.


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