We are repeatedly told that basic human rituals are falling by the wayside. Why don’t we all sit down to dinner as a family anymore? Why don’t we spend time with each other anymore? Why are we all sleep deprived?
Sometimes these problems are blamed on people spending too much time devoted to kids’ intramural activities or other types of school- and recreation-based activities. Some analysts note people can’t tear themselves away from their smart phones in order to go to bed at a decent hour.
But very often, we’re told, this lack of time comes down to too much work. The articles covering these topics are full of anecdotal evidence of people with multiple jobs, long commutes, and crushing work responsibilities.
These problems no doubt afflict many people. They’re certainly an issue for people at that state of life where couples have school-age children, and have a host of bills from many responsibilities that comes with raising a family.
But, the anecdotal evidence is contradicted by years of data showing people aren’t nearly as hard pressed for a few free moments as is supposed.
Specifically, consider the 2019 Q1 data provided on media consumption by the Neilsen Company. According to their extensive sampling of TV, smart phone, and video game console users, American adults spend an average of four-and-a-half hours per day watching television. The spend an additional 54 minutes using TV-connected devices such as DVD players and video game consoles.
People over fifty watch the most television and generally consume the most screen-based media. People in the 50-64 age bracket watched nearly six hours of television, and spend an additional two hours and forty-seven minutes on smart phones. People in the over-65 category watched even more television than that.
Not surprisingly, people in the 18-34 age group consumed the least media overall, and also used televisions the least. Those people have younger children — which makes TV viewing harder — and may be spending more time outside the house with friends. In this group, people watched on average one hour and fifty-four minutes of television, but were on phone apps for three-and-a-half hours.
Across age groups, media consumption ranged from nine hours to nearly thirteen hours. Per day.
But to err on the conservative side, let’s remove radio time — which could just be part of the daily commute — and “internet on a computer,” which could be chores and work time. Even if we do this, we find Americans are on average watching videos, playing video games, and consuming media seven or eight hours per day.
And yet, media outlets and pundits are often telling us that ordinary people absolutely don’t have time to prepare a meal or maintain friendships. Given the data here, I’m skeptical of these assertions.
Now, these are averages, so it may be that people are very squeezed for time during the week, but then consume enormous amounts of media on the weekends. Certainly, there are people out there who consume live sports programming virtually all day on Sunday during football seasons. But then that would imply these people at least have time to spend with friends and family on weekends.
But if people have more than seven hours per day on average to watch re-runs of Friends, watch in-depth analysis of NBA games, and fire up the Playstation, why can’t they manage to get eight hours of sleep?
If this data is correct, then the anecdotal evidence just doesn’t add up, and it’s simply not the case that people don’t have time to do anything other than work, eat some fast food, and then do it all over again.
This isn’t to say that poverty doesn’t exist or that everyone is more or less average. We’ve all encountered people who at least sometimes work multiple jobs or are pushed to their limits by family obligations, work, and medical problems.
But the statistical data on media consumption suggests this isn’t the typical experience.
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