Screen-Free Week 2022: How would giving up screens impact businesses?

This week is Screen-Free Week, an annual event dedicated to encouraging communities to minimise the amount of time they spend using screens for entertainment. Business Leader investigated the impact giving up screens could have on businesses.

It isn’t news that tech addiction is the issue of our time. Young people are developing mental health issues due to social media, ‘blue light’ from devices is impacting our sleeping habits, and too much screen time stops us from doing things that really matter to us.

The pandemic caused an increased reliance on digital devices. During lockdowns, people used devices for entertainment, to keep in touch with family and friends, to work from home, and keep up to date with news.

According to a study, the pandemic drastically spurred the over-use of digital devices for socialising – this included virtual dates, virtual tourism, virtual parties, and family conferences. In another study, the unprecedented digital use caused by the pandemic gave rise to increased levels of anxiety, sad mood, uncertainty, and negative emotions.

Additionally, social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok have gained immense popularity since the pandemic. A survey taken over 2020 found a 50-70% increase in internet use during the pandemic. Within this, 50% of time spent on the internet was spent on social media.

Social media sites have personalised advertisements, and personalised content algorithms which keep users scrolling endlessly, keeping them on the app for as long as possible.

Lucy Kidwell, Screen-Free Week Coordinator, commented: “It’s clear that excessive screen time – especially through social media – can negatively influence our physical health, mental outlook, and attention spans.

“This can seriously harm our ability to be engaged and present community members, affecting our families, workplaces, and society at large. Really, taking care of our own digital wellness is a fantastic way to give back to those around us and to contribute to something larger than ourselves”.

Our devices, and particularly the social media apps we use, have been designed to be addictive – so it’s no surprise that the world is facing a device-addiction epidemic. In response, many people have downtime from their digital devices, where they opt for activities spent with family and friends and spend time outdoors, instead of going on their phones.

How would giving up screens impact businesses?

For most businesses, using digital devices is a necessary part of any job. So of course, it would be virtually impossible for every business to give up screens.

Despite this, giving up the amount of screen time we use for entertainment purposes could have a tremendous impact on the way we work.

“Screen-Free Week is actually about taking a break from ‘entertainment’ screens —not screens necessary for work or school,” continues Kidwell. “We realise that today, people must use their devices for everyday functions and would never want to pressure workplaces that rely on screens.

“So thankfully, Screen-Free Week wouldn’t impact businesses and the economy (other than perhaps helping workers find more balance, rest, and productivity in the long run).”

Reduced screen time can improve sleep. Studies have shown that the ‘blue light’ in screens impacts the melatonin released in the brain, preventing sleep.

Additionally, ‘quickly’ checking your phone before bed often leads to checking other apps that you didn’t intend to look at – addictive algorithms in social media apps don’t help this. As a result, improved sleep leads to better mood, better health, improved mental health and improved mental performance.

Giving up screens can also lead to higher levels of productivity and learning. In a study entitled ‘How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds’, it was found that the presence of mobile phones, even when not being used, leads to distractions when working. This is because it takes a distracting amount of mental effort to resist the ‘pull’ of a device.

Less screen time can also cause an increased level of mindfulness and present-moment awareness. Studies have shown that when students give up their phones for a period of two days, they describe feeling an awareness of the present moment. Arguably, this present moment awareness could lead to higher levels of productivity and creativity in the workplace.

Despite the positive aspects of giving up screens, people spending less time on their phones could negatively impact businesses who rely on digital advertising. Additionally, electronic device retailers could lose out financially if people start to spend less time on their phones.

According to research, 84% of adults in the UK had a smartphone by the end of 2020. Moreover, research shows that 100% of Gen-Z use mobile phones. This indicates that because so much of the population use digital devices, a vast majority of industries would be impacted if people decided to reduce their screen time.

With a growing awareness of the negative impact of too much screen time, we might find out the effect this has on businesses and the economy sooner than we think.