As screen time rises, Americans are more dependent than ever on our media to keep us company, but this online dependency can have real-world consequences.

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What are we spending our time on?

In 2022, screens and social media dominate most Americans’ time, regardless of age. While certain platforms like streaming services seem to entice all generations, some platforms, such as TikTok, have a stronger grasp on specific age groups.

In July, Nielsen reported that streaming was not only at an all-time high but finally surpassed cable’s viewer numbers for the first time ever. For the past four months, streaming has beat its own record highs, and with a decrease in sports programming and the release of popular streaming shows such as ‘Stranger Things’ this past month, streaming has finally usurped cable.

This increased streaming and TV viewership is strong for all ages, but specifically those 75+ are spending almost five hours a day watching TV, while 35-44-year-olds use 2.1 hours of their limited leisure time to catch up on their shows, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Teenagers spend a little bit less time than the 35 to 44’s at just two hours, but with significantly more leisure time in the day, the younger generations are focusing their free time on different platforms.

However, this increase in streaming popularity has not seemed to hurt the popularity of local news media. People still seem to trust both local news networks and family and friends more as their main source of information. A poll by NBC showed that young college students put more trust in their local connections. As reported in our 2022 Gulf South Index from The Ehrhardt Group and Causeway Solutions, the people of the Gulf South’s trust in local news is even more important than that of family and friends – with 48% trusting local news networks and 37% trusting family and friends.

“In a time when people are engaging with so much media, they want something they can trust,” said Marc Ehrhardt, president of The Ehrhardt Group. “Local media feels more familiar.”

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Who do we spend our time with?

Who we spend most of our day with changes over time, according to the American Time Use Survey. For teens, most of their hours are spent with family and friends. Young parents in their late twenties or early thirties spend the most time with their children and their partners. Coworkers also make up for a lot of the day for those between 20 and 50.

It also comes as no surprise that time spent alone remains on a steady incline all through life, with over 400 minutes per day spent alone for 80-year-olds. After retirement, raising children, and even losing relatives and friends, over half of the day is spent alone on average.

However, it may come as a surprise that Americans in their late thirties to early forties have the least amount of time to themselves and spend most of their time with a mix of children, friends, family and coworkers. A study done by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics determined 35-to-44-year-olds have the least time to themselves at just under four hours a day.

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Privacy and societal concerns.

The fear of data breach and personal information being shared is real. Many social media platforms rely on data-heavy algorithms to show users what they want to see, and those users are worried about what that means for them. 77% of those in the Gulf South reported concerns about how companies are using the data collected about them. A recent study by Pew Research Center on the Future of Digital Spaces also found that 18 percent of participants believe digital spaces are evolving negatively.

This fear is no surprise with social media’s rapid growth, especially with the emergence of apps like TikTok, a China-based short-video viewing app that is increasingly popular, especially among young people. The app was released in the U.S. in 2018, and in only four years they have taken over the social media scene, with Pew reporting over 67% of teens using the app and 16% being on it constantly. In general, TikTok users spend 25.7 hours a month scrolling the app, over nine hours more than Facebook users.

 Many are concerned about TikTok’s rise in America, as the app developers are currently allowed to use viewers data for whatever they want, and the platform can also be a serious source of spreading misinformation to thousands of people at once.

The worries of social media’s impact are larger than outside threats. Specifically at risk seem to be young people. Pew shows 97% of teens using the internet daily in 2022. 44% report feeling “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” according to the CDC. 67% of college-age students report dealing with persistent anxiety and 46% report similar feelings of depression, according to the NBC Poll. As exposure to media increases exposure to harsh world events, and the endless scrolling of social media allows for constant social comparison, our teens are facing the brunt of the media craze.

How we spend our time matters. As we think about how we receive, process and share information, it’s more important than ever to consider what we’re spending time on and who we spend it with. Those people closest to us have great influence over who we trust and the information we receive.