How Many Hours a Day Would You Guess People Watch Electronic Devices?

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REUTERS / David Gray

A visitor uses his iPad to take a photograph of a painting titled "The Kiss" at an exhibition showcasing works by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso in the Art Gallery of South Australia in Sydney.

Before I tell you how many hours a day people spend watching content on tablets, TVs, phones and so forth, because a polling group’s done the legwork and compiled a bunch of numbers, let’s talk quick about technology. The word, I mean, which according to my dictionary’s primary definition means “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.”

These days, you say that word and I’d wager most conjure images of tablets, smartphones, digital cameras, satellites, cruise missiles, electric cars or glasses-free 3D handhelds. That’s all correct, of course–that stuff’s definitely technology, I mean. But so is a wheel, or a pencil, or if we’re going all the way back, it’s any tool, including something as simple as a wayward stick snatched up and applied to some purpose, be it clubbing something for dinner or prying up a rock to get at whatever’s underneath.

The reason I raise the point, is that the following poll implies, as subtext, that something different’s happening when we pick up an electronic tablet in lieu of pencil and paper to compose an email, or an e-reader in lieu of a book to read something like the digital version of this magazine, or a novel by Stephen King. Those of us who view change as bad, or at least a little bit terrifying, may look at numbers like the ones below read ominous signs in the tea leaves.

But okay, hold that thought, and let’s jump to the poll’s results.

The poll was conducted by Poll Position to determine “how many hours a day do you spend looking at either a TV, computer screen, e-reader, PDA or cellphone?” The group asked that question of 1,220 registered voters, by phone, on November 19, 2011 (the margin of error: ±3%) and the results are weighted to represent “all American adults.” Its generalized finding: 60% of Americans spend between one and six hours a day viewing content on electronic devices.

But that doesn’t tell us much. What if 90% spent one hour a day, or all six? No problem: The poll breaks the 60% total down by viewing time, thus:

1-3 hours: 31%
4-6 hours: 30%
7-9 hours: 22%
10 hours or more: 12%
Spend no time: 2%

We’re nearly at thirds here, making this an easy poll to talk about in terms of pie slices. About a third spend one to three hours, another third spend four to six, and the remaining third spend between seven and more than 10 hours a day viewing content on electronic devices. Assuming most of us spend between 12 and 18 hours per 24 hours day awake, that’s a pretty evenly upscaling range of use, from one hour through 10 (or more).

(MORE: Who Really Invented the Computer?)

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