The Solution For Too Much Screen Time

A couple of weeks ago middle age got the best of me while giving my initial read on the new Apple Vision Pro.

The TL;DR version is I think it’s bullish for Apple but bearish for humanity because it just means more time with a screen and less time with other people.

Derek Thompson provided some more ammo for my take in a recent piece on the fact that young people aren’t hanging out as much anymore:

From 2003 to 2022, American men reduced their average hours of face-to-face socializing by about 30 percent. For unmarried Americans, the decline was even bigger–more than 35 percent. For teenagers, it was more than 45 percent. Boys and girls ages 15 to 19 reduced their weekly social hangouts by more than three hours a week. In short, there is no statistical record of any other period in U.S. history when people have spent more time on their own.

Teenage depression and hopelessness are setting new annual records every year. The share of young people who say they have a close friend has plummeted. Americans have been so depressed about the state of the nation for so many consecutive years that by 2023, NBC pollsters said, “We have never before seen this level of sustained pessimism in the 30-year-plus history of the poll.”

I’m not blaming any specific company, software or hardware for this trend.1

We’ve been heading down this path since the Internet became part of our daily experience sometime in the early-2000s.

Covid and the work-from-home trend cemented it even more.

I can complain but there’s no fighting it. Plus, most of the time the stuff on your screen — streaming, social media, 24/7 news — actually is more interesting than your friends and family. Or at least it is to your dopamine receptors.

This is our reality now.

This is why experiences and vacations are going to be even more important in the future than they were in the past.

My family went on a short trip2 to the Florida Keys last week to get away from the snow, relax and see the sun for the first time in months.

Here’s what I witnessed on my trip:

The restaurants were packed. Everyone was drinking, laughing and having a good time.

People were doing activities galore — fishing, boating, jet skis, volleyball, beach football, swimming, kayaking, sunbathing, day-drinking and socializing.

You know what I didn’t see much of on our trip? Screens and phones.

Sure, there were some phones out for pictures to make friends back home jealous on Instagram but for the most part people were experiencing life without their screens.

At one point, my son said, “Why would I go on my iPad…we’re in Florida.”

It was glorious.

Look, there’s no going back when it comes to smartphones, social media or screens being a huge part of our lives. You can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube.

But I don’t think we’re heading for a dystopian hellscape where everyone attaches a piece of glass to their face 24/7 either.

Some people will do this but most people still require interactions with other human beings in reality.

So we’ll probably live in a world where hangouts are fewer and far between than they were in the past, but we make sure they’re more memorable.

This is why live concerts are booming. Good luck finding tickets to a comedy show in New York City. Live sporting events are more popular than ever. Tickets to the Super Bowl averaged more than $9,000/ticket. Prime vacation spots around the globe have been packed for years.

Following the pandemic I assumed we would have a mini-travel boom and then things would go back to normal. People are still traveling, despite much higher prices.

Look at the TSA passenger volume data from one year to the next:

It’s higher across the board in 2024 than it was in 2023 just like it was higher in 2023 than 2022.

Now check out restaurant spending:

Sure, higher inflation is playing a role here but higher prices haven’t stopped people from eating out to be around others. This trend went into overdrive following the pandemic.

One of the reasons people used to hang out more in the past is simply because there wasn’t much to do. Entertainment options were limited. Life was fairly boring so you had to hang out with your friends more to pass the time.

Now we have an endless selection of entertainment options available at our fingertips.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people don’t like going out and doing stuff anymore but they are being more selective about when and where they hang out.

Experiences and vacations will be even more important in a world that involves more screen time and less human interaction in the course of everyday life.

Vacations are more important for your mental health than ever before.


While we’re here, some random vacation thoughts following my recent travels:

No one cares about your terrible flight experience. Four things no one cares about but you: your fantasy football team, the dream you had last night, your children’s accomplishments and your travel nightmare. Everyone has delayed flights and problems with airlines.

I had a bad experience at a large international airport this week. Will I be telling people about it? No, because no one cares and it happens to everyone.

My perfect beer involves the following: a view of the water, a bar on the beach, someone playing Jimmy Buffett cover songs with an acoustic guitar and the sun setting.

This is my happy place.

Another sign of middle age. Two legs of our trip were in more crowded areas while most of the time was spent at a quieter resort. In my younger days I wanted the action. Now I’m perfectly content relaxing in a quieter setting with fewer crowds and less traffic on the road.

I want to relax at a nice pool but I don’t want to get into a fistfight with another dad at 7 am for a lounge chair.

I guess this is what happens when you get old.

I’m trying to experience nostalgia in the moment. My oldest daughter turns 10 in a couple of months. I know there will come a time when she’s a teenager where she’ll be too cool for me. Same thing with my twins. I know this because parents with older children are constantly telling me this.

So I’m doing my best to appreciate my time with them now while they still like hanging out with me.

Further Reading:
My New Goal in Life: Avoid a Mid-Life Crisis

1I do question some of these studies on depression and anxiety among young people. I get the impact social media is having but life was pretty lonely in the pre-Internet, pre-smartphone, pre-social media age too when I was growing up. I was bored a lot. It’s just no one ever asked me about it and we never talked about this stuff.

2Apparently, fall break, Christmas break, spring break and summer break aren’t enough.

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