Ron Colone: Regarding time we spend on phones

Ron Colone: Regarding time we spend on phones

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A notification just popped up on my screen informing me that last week I averaged three hours and 54 minutes a day on my cell phone.

I don’t know if that was normal or an unusually high or low week for me, but I do know Americans spend, on average, five hours, 24 minutes a day gazing into our phones. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, that seems like an awful lot of time, or at least more time than I want to be tethered to the phone.

Granted, they’re mobile phones so we’re not really tethered to them anymore. They’re now just standard equipment and a normal part of our daily activities. We use them to help us go where we want, get what we want and do what we want such as listen to music, make payments, send files, look up information. We use them as cameras and calculators and alarm clocks, as flashlights, tuners and health monitors. We use them to get the news, read books, watch movies, listen to “talks” and play games and do puzzles, translate languages and to entertain and educate ourselves in all sorts of ways.

More than 80 percent of American adults now own a smartphone, which may seem like a really high number, but it places us sixth in the world behind South Korea, Israel, Netherlands, Sweden and Australia. Two-thirds of us access the internet from our phones, compared to 98 percent of the people in China, and for 20 percent of Americans smartphones are the sole means of getting online.

And what are we doing once we get online? Communicating, mostly, by text, chat, email and sometimes we even use it to make phone calls.

OPINION Everyone living here knows all about state Highway 154, which begins in the upper reaches of Santa Barbara, and twists its way through breathtaking vistas until it reconnects with Highway 101 at Zaca Station.

A good chunk of that time — more than two hours a day, on average — is spent on social media. In 2019, more than 79 percent of the U.S. population, or about 247 million people, had social-media profiles and regularly spent time on one or more of the social-media platforms.

The thing that bothers me most about all this cell phone usage is how we allow it to interrupt, distract and pull us away from other people. Even when we’re busy doing other things, we constantly turn our attention back to our phones. I know I don’t like it when I’m trying to talk to someone and they keep glancing away at their phone, but I’ve caught myself doing it.

The latest studies reveal that Americans, on average, now check our phones 96 times a day, and for people in the 18-24 age group, the figure is twice that much.

Most of us think when it comes to all these facts and figures that we are below the average, but it wouldn’t be the average if most of us were below it.

It kind of reminds me of that experiment with the Rhesus monkeys in which they have a choice of going toward a surrogate mother made out of wood, wire and cloth, which provides softness, warmth, comfort and maybe security, or getting food for nourishment and sustenance. Most of them choose the security blanket, even to the point of starving themselves to death.

I can’t help but wonder if these phones are our security blankets, and if we’re starving for real life flesh-and-blood experiences.

I’m not here to debate what’s real and what’s not, but I’m almost certain that no matter how old you are, when you recall the standout moments of your life, you will not include among the really great ones that thing that happened when you were staring into the screen of your smartphone.

Ron Colone can be reached at


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