A Look On The Lighter Side: Screen time lost…and found


Recently, the New York Times ran a highly annoying piece about how much time and money could be saved by people who stopped using their smartphones or other devices for a year. The writer, Paul Greenberg, hypothesized that by doing without “screentime,” as he called it, people would each save $1,380 and 1,460 hours a year.

Greenberg had fun recommending what folks could do with that time and money, instead. Suggestions included buying half an acre of land out west and planting it with 150 trees; visiting local and state representatives three times a week for a year of grass-roots activism, and somehow cleaning the entire ocean, or else managing all the waste in unnamed Asian countries “for 70 years.”

That buying half an acre thing — surely he’s just taunting us. Greenberg says, “It takes about 30 minutes for an amateur forester to plant a tree.” But that’s only once you’re there, of course. You and your 150 trees. That’s a little over 3 days, working non-stop around the clock. No time to sleep — which is just as well, because I see no provision for a place to do that, in his calculations.

Greenberg is very big on how much carbon that half-acre of trees would “sequester” in a year. But first you’d have to subtract all the airplane and rental car pollution involved in getting there — you and your trees — not to mention inspecting your land before purchase; paying surveying fees, getting title deeds, and all the rest.

Or, he says, you could just send money to his recommended non-profit (which I assume the Times will vouch for), the National Forest Foundation. It’s easy to find, if you just click on the link in the story. Except oops! I forgot — we’re not supposed to be reading on our “devices,” but in the paper-and-ink Times, instead. It’ll be loads of fun figuring out how to reach them, either by phone or your own paper-and-ink through the mail.

Another suggestion was reading actual books, like Marcel Proust’s multi-volume classic, “In Search of Lost Time” — a work I suspect he chose more for its title than anything else. I have actually read that particular work of Proust’s, or tried to, and considered every minute of it as time not only lost, but hopelessly so.

Probably the most remarked-upon point in this piece was Greenberg’s assertion that a person could spend their 1,460 hours having sex 16,000 times, “assuming you’re like most Americans and your lovemaking sessions last an average of 5.4 minutes, not counting foreplay.”

All I can say is Good luck to Mr. Greenberg finding a partner for his 15,599 repeats of that performance.

But I don’t think Greenberg is serious about any of this. Will he be ditching his own devices, for a year…and somehow keeping his job as a journalist? I doubt it.

This is just the latest example of something I call “pseudo-statistics.” You know what I mean — like the stories about how many zillions it costs the economy every year when employees don’t get their flu shots. How did they arrive at those numbers? And why must the only important aspect of everything be always boiled down to a dollar sign? Just say “Getting the flu definitely sucks more than getting the shot,” and I’m sold.

I have been subjected to many dubious stats in my life, but Mr. Greenberg’s are the “ne plus ultra,” which is either French or Latin (I can’t tell you which unless I use my phone to Google it) for “stupidest yet.” (It’s Latin.)

I would ditch my own cell-phone gladly — but texting is the best and sometimes only way to reach my kids, and cell-phone photos have spared me many an incoherent conversation with my plumber:

“Whatever this thingamajig is, I need a new one.”
“Oh, a new ball-cock valve? Why didn’t you say so?”
“Because I’ve only got 5.4 minutes for this conversation, not counting foreplay!”

If there were a way to live in the modern world without cell phones or computers, I’d be doing it. So Greenberg’s not really recommending anything at all. He just wants to name-drop pet charities, while sounding holier-than-us, — which in my book (college lined, faux-leather cover) makes him a cynic. Or, as Oscar Wilde would put it, (from my hardcover, cloth-bound Bartlett’s Quotations), “A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”


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