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A psychologist has discovered why it feels like you have no free time


What do you do with your free time? Watch a bit of telly? Flick about on a tablet? Go on a Wikipedia adventure on your laptop? Scroll through Insta on your phone?

Probably a combination of all four (sometimes at once). You certainly don’t go for a walk, play some squash, go on a bike ride or do some yoga, do you?

Take a look at those first four scenarios again – what do they all have in common?

Exactly, I do all of them naked. Oh and also they all involve staring at a screen.

Adam Alter, an psychologist at New York University did a TED Talk all about the way we use our free time, and it turns out that – especially when compared to just 10 years ago – we’re glued to various iterations of the idiot box all the time.

Here’s a chart to show his findings:


So, the blue stuff is sleeping, working and things like eating and washing (survival), then the red shows screen-time, and the white and yellow is for other pursuits like ‘exercising’, ‘reading’ or ‘seeing how many caterpillars you can fit in your mouth’ etc. Basically: look how much time we spend gorming at a screen, eyes glazed, brain melting, blinks slowing. It’s lots.

Alter talks about how screens rob us of ‘stopping cues’ – which basically means that once you start staring, you can’t stop. When you’ve finished a book, you’ve finished a book, but you’ve never ‘finished’ Instagram or Twitter. 

He also breaks up screen-time into different sections. It’s not all bad, thankfully – on average we spend nine minutes every day looking at stuff that enriches us, like a health app, or Tinder. Unfortunately, we spend 27 minutes glued to stuff that make us feel worse about ourselves, like a news app, or Tinder.

His advice is pretty obvious: take a break now and again. Get outside, block an app, draw a picture, draw a picture of yourself blocking an app whilst outside – anything to tear you away from a screen. This is because an unhealthy addiction to a flat piece of glass can lead to feelings of isolation:

“You get used to it, you overcome the withdrawal like you would with a drug, and life becomes more colourful, richer.”

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of a scroll here and there, just keep it under control. I normally keep it to a minimum of an hour a day. That’s not including Tinder, obviously. Then it’s more like 27 hours a day.



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