Weeks ago I was shocked to report the amount of screen time that the average American consumes every day (more than 12 hours) looking at smart phones, computers and televisions, and further to write about the toll it seems to be having on young adults and babies mental and physical health. But it came as more of a surprise to learn in recent weeks that new data suggests not only are older generations not much different from young people in their smart phone usage, but the mental health effects may not be too different.
Provision Living, a group of senior living communities across the U.S. did a study looking at 1,000 Baby Boomers and 1,000 millennials to compare the similarities and differences between the two generations usage of smart phones. And the results were not what was expected.
On average, Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are on smart phones five hours a day. That’s almost the same amount of time on a phone as millennials – those born between 1981 and 1995 – who clock in over five-and-a-half hours per day. But what’s really interesting, is how that time on devices is being spent, and more importantly, what it means for our mental health. In a period when the more we are “connected” means more time alone on devices, the perception of connectivity and actually engaging others can be starkly different.
In fact, according to the Provision Living data, millennials spend more time making old fashioned phone calls to talk to peers and family than Baby Boomers do.
For both cohorts, social media makes up a significant portion of their time on phones, with Facebook being the overwhelming site for both generations, clocking at over an hour per day for both cohorts. Instagram (owned by Facebook) also came in second for both generational groups, at nearly an hour per day for both. This is concerning for mental health experts who point to research that suggests connectivity to Facebook interferes with in-person connectivity, sleep, memory, and potentially contributes to depression and anxiety.
However, generational differences appear when looking to how Baby Boomers and millennials spend the remaining three plus hours a day on their phones. For millennials, texting takes up another hour each day, while Baby Boomers are on email, news apps and surfing the internet. Millennials also devote a lot of their smart phone usage listening to music apps such as Pandora and Spotify and podcasts. But for both groups, Twitter and YouTube were the least used forms of social media on smart phones.
At the conclusion of the Provision Living study, one in three respondents – from both cohorts – said that they had underestimated the amount of time they were on their phones each day. However, two-thirds admitted that they had no intention of scaling back their usage.
Whatever effect smart phone utilization is having on our brains and bodies, it’s clear that the impact is being felt across the lifespan. And, it’s certainly changing the way we think, behave and interact with one another. But the stereotypes of young people being alone in their obsession is not correct. So for those in the health space, a great way to reach out aging population is through smart phones – because even if they deny how much they use them, Baby Boomers are addicted to phones and to social apps.