Amid all the uncertainties of the COVID pandemic, there have been multiple peaks and valleys in social media and device usage in 2020. Chirp’s multi-phase study, The Double-Edged Screen, has looked at these trends to explore our relationships with our devices and our connections to social media.
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, as the country hunkered down with puzzles and sourdough starters, device usage was up. Social media was the best and sometimes the only way to connect with friends and family, so the screen guilt, which was so ingrained pre-pandemic, lifted. But as Americans have habituated to their “new normal,” pre-pandemic attitudes about screen time and social media are returning.
Device use is down almost across the board. Even the recent uptick in smartwatch use is likely an indicator of an increased interest in digital detox; users who are spending less time on their phones, tablets, and laptops might be using the smartwatch as a way to reduce their usual screen time while still maintaining a connection to critical digital services like phone, text, etc.
The recent release of The Social Dilemma, a documentary produced by Netflix, may also be driving down screen use. Participants in our October 2020 phase who had seen the documentary were much more likely to acknowledge that screen use can cause social anxiety, depression, and addictive behavior. Heading into 2021, many are untethering and reevaluating relationships with their devices and with social media.
The Double-Edged Screen is a primary research study conducted by Chirp Research in three phases throughout 2020 (January – N=2000, April – N=1000, and October – N=1000). In this study we measured device usage, physical and mental impacts of device usage, and techniques for reducing screen time. As the year progressed, we also measured the impact of COVID-19 on technology-related behaviors.