The explosion of screens into our daily lives, as companions, assistants, and entertainment hubs has been phenomenal. Most estimates even suggest that screens now outnumber humans on planet Earth.
The growing societal concern of the dangers of screens has been intertwined in our relationship with them, and in many cases - these concerns do have some merit.
People see screens as disrupting our ability to be the social beings that we exist to be. There are concerns for the impact on children, too, with a body of evidence showing that excessive screen usage can have effects on their cognitive development. Early data from a landmark 2018 National Institutes of Health study shows that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
Like most things in life, it’s important to remember that moderation is key. The panic around screen time carries an important message, but in many ways detracts from everything that screens have contributed to our lives thus far, and what they will certainly contribute in the future. They’re not going anywhere - so we need to learn to live with them.
2020 has been, for many, a realisation on just how reliant we are on screens and I guarantee everybody reading this has considered how they might have fared with lockdown in a world without the technology we take for granted. For entertainment, for connection, for knowledge, the list goes on. The New York Times even recently published a feature titled - Coronavirus Ended the Screen-Time Debate. Screens Won.
A recent OfCom report highlighted that during lockdown, people in the UK spent 40% of their day watching TV and online video services. By ‘normal life’ standards this is of course excessive, but this will have provided exceptional comfort to many who may have been in dire need. Millions of people have also had to manage relationships over zoom. It may seem weird and dystopian, but in a time of crisis - screens saved the day. They have provided a way for us to connect with families and friends and have provided the emotional comfort and social stimulation we have needed through an exceptionally tough Winter.
Lockdown also accelerated some thinking behind how screens will become further intertwined with our lives in the future. Halloween was a major example. How could people possibly take part in festivities whilst safely acting within COVID-19 guidelines? To answer that, we designed Treat Street, an interactive AR experience that would allow children to trick-or-treat in their neighbourhoods safely - collecting 3D AR ‘treats’ such as pumpkins and cauldrons through smart devices, whilst trying to avoid ‘tricks’ such as ghouls and zombies.
There are countless use cases for this type of experience, and as the world moves ever forward the way we interact with screens will change. Technology will be the enabler for entirely new social, entertainment and educational experiences using our devices that were unthinkable a decade ago.
The recent collaboration between LEGO and Universal Music - LEGO Vidiyo - is one recent example. Screens are used to augment the physical experience of LEGO and provide children with entirely new creative avenues to explore whilst providing access to the Universal music catalogue. By combining music, video editing and creative thinking, these two brands have, I believe, lit a creative spark that will set the creative industries alight for years to come.
We’re also seeing this in the retail space. Nike, for example, have recently announced an activation in the NYC House of Innovation. Shoppers are able to scan QR codes throughout the store to trigger micro experiences that include augmented reality to provide entertainment and storytelling opportunities around the store.
This combination of entertainment and education is the future of screens, but it’s really just the start. Wearables, specifically watches, will have a big impact on our lives in the next few years and we’ll see significant adoption of these tiny, unobtrusive screens.
They’ll move from health and fitness and into entertainment and utility. It’s when this happens that we’ll really see our relationship with screens evolve.