A Snapshot of America

More than ever today, we hear handwringing among the press, politicians, and pollsters, about how America is “headed in the wrong direction,” and eager finger-pointing over who is to blame.  Naturally, we assume that it is our politicians (especially the ones on the other side of the aisle, of course) who are responsible for the general national malaise.  But how much of it, I can’t help but wonder, is due simply to the steady inebriation of our senses with electronic media, and abandonment of reading?  One doesn’t have to be a Luddite to be sobered by the following statistics (taken from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows):

1150: minutes per week that the average American young adult spends online (on a computer)

49: minutes per week that the average American young adult spends reading any form of print publication.  

2,272: number of texts per month the average American teen sends (that’s 75 per day)

153: hours per month the average American spends in front of the TV (still rising despite increased internet usage)

Unsurprisingly, Americans outstrip Europeans by a long shot, spending 50% more time surfing the Net and three times as much time in front of the TV. 

(These figures are all from 2009, I should add, and are most likely considerably worse now, as they had been getting worse at a rapid pace through 2009.)

And consider that, as of 2006, 42% of those watching over 35 hours of TV programming a week (the national average) also used the Net for over 30 hours a week, for a total of over 65 hours per week, nearly 2/3 of their waking hours.  


9 thoughts on “A Snapshot of America

  1. Frank

    Forgive me if this comment constitutes "being an ass" – that's not my intent.What you say here really is neither logical, nor does it constitute an argument. You quote statistics about how much time young Americans spend on the internet and pair said statistics with a comment about the defects of our culture. But that's all. Can you actually prove that spending time on the internet is detrimental to our society?I know you're just posing a question, but it seems that if you want us (your readers) to think critically about our use of social media and the internet – a worthy goal demonstrated by your recent (valuable) posts – then you ought to do so by using sound logic and offering more than mere implication/correlation.


  2. Brad Littlejohn

    Well certainly, Frank. It was not intended to be a logical argument. Forgive me if this reply is a bit defensive, but given that in the majority of my blog posts are quite lengthy and involved, I thought it appropriate to occasionally (as most other bloggers sometimes do) throw out a few interesting statistics or observations for readers to chew on, rather than doing all the chewing myself. You can't say everything all the time; every blog post needn't be a fully formed essay.What are we to make of such statistics? Well, I'm curious what other folks think. Certainly, it seems hard not to conclude that there's something unhealthy about a society in which the average 30-year-old spends nearly 25 times longer watching TV than reading. But the precise nature of this unhealthiness obviously calls for some further reflection. And although this post just falls under the heading "food for thought," I hope to engage in some of that further reflection here as I finish reading through The Shallows.


  3. AJ

    I own this criticism, but I also wonder if you could find it in yourself to mix in a positive statement about America now and then. You've become predictable in your disses.


  4. Brad Littlejohn

    Heh. If you know of some positives to cheer me up, please share! Though here's one I'll happily make (though it's perhaps fairly predictable as well): the American church still has a strength and vitality which the churches here can scarcely dream of possessing, and I believe therefore that American Christianity, for all its many besetting sins and blindnesses, possesses the resources to overcome them. The present may be gloomy enough, but if we are diligent in faithfulness, there is reason to hope for the future.By the way, Frank, I should add—the statistic about text messages, of course, doesn't quite fit with the others, and doesn't point as obviously to the same sort of malaise. I mostly included it sheerly for its ridiculousness…I just cannot imagine why any sane person would want to send 75 text messages a day. I could explain, if I spent enough time, why this is not merely a matter of personal distaste for me, but perhaps culturally detrimental, but I understand that that would take some explaining.


  5. AJ

    Whenever I think back to 9/11, I do feel better about one aspect of America. Say what you want to about some ridiculous displays of patriotic pride and consumerism in the aftermath, but you can’t take away from the massive amount of selfless bravery shown by both folks in the towers and flight as well as folks who rushed to the towers. I honestly question whether folks would organize and sacrifice their lives in the heat of such a tragedy in many other nations. If you doubt the genuine selfless heroism, read 102 Minutes.


  6. Frank

    Brad,Forgive me if my comments came across as unduly offensive. That was not my intent.I wasn't asking for a comprehensive analysis of the situation. Rather, I was merely questioning how you chose to frame these statistics. They didn't come across as an "interesting observation," but rather as an implied condemnation of our use of the internet. On that count, I stand by my initial complaint: there's nothing in those statistics to substantiate your implication that our cultural problems are (at least in part) thanks to extended time we spend in front of computer and TV screens.For what it's worth, one of the central reasons I objected to your post is because I'm suspicious of arguments/implications that a print literate society is superior to a digitally-focused one. For my money, I don't think there's much difference between Victorian readers snapping up Dickens's latest serial piece and modern viewers catching the latest Mad Men or Big Bang Theory episode. That's obviously a highly arguable statement, but I think having that argument – or at least an argument of that nature – would be more helpful than one based on the question, "Is our society headed for the crapper because we spend so much time with our computers/cellphones/TVs?"


  7. Brad Littlejohn

    AJ—Sorry, the United States does not have a monopoly on citizens willing to risk their lives in the line of duty. That is one of the strangest of the many myths we tell ourselves.Frank—No problem. I must ask, though, have you read The Shallows? Were you still unconvinced? Because I think he does a pretty good job of arguing in there that there is a big difference between how print media and electronic media affect our brains, and thereby, ultimately, our cultures. Of course, his main argument is about the internet. Is TV necessarily detrimental in the same way? No, not necessarily. But the statistic above works out to 5 hours a day! To be honest, I still can't believe that's right. But if it's anywhere close to right, I don't see how one can look of that and not conclude, prima facie, that that must be unhealthy. I think I would call it unhealthy as well if a society were spending 5 hours a day reading serial novels. The enormous use of cellphones and smartphones poses its own quite distinct set of issues, I think, largely pertaining to the anti-social effects of being always in a private bubble even when one is out in public. But of course, each of these would need to be spelled out at some length—and as I said, at least as far as the internet is concerned, I hope to post at greater length once I finish The Shallows. My only point in this post was to say, "Well, gosh. It's hard to imagine all this isn't unhealthy for us," as one might do if posting statistics about how much fast food Americans consume. To me, at least, that much seemed instinctively obvious. However, I suppose it's good to know that it doesn't seem instinctively obvious to everyone, and the arguments must thus be made quite carefully.


  8. AJ

    "AJ—Sorry, the United States does not have a monopoly on citizens willing to risk their lives in the line of duty. That is one of the strangest of the many myths we tell ourselves."Huh? That wasn't at all what I was asserting.


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