Screens of life

Have you counted your screens lately?

Have you counted your screens lately?

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

How many screens do you have in your life? Have you ever stopped to count ’em up?

Let Auntie Ruth go first: There’s the TV screen in her TV room (and, she’ll confess, there’s another TV to be found if you rummage around her abode). There’s the home computer screen where she writes this column and another computer screen at her day job. There’s the screen that’s with her always—“the precious,” the ubiquitious iPhone (she really should give it a less predictable name). That’s five screens to which she puts her eyes on often. Then there’s the computer notebook, used occasionally. There’s an iPod, a little dusty from disuse. We’re up to seven now.

The Council for Research Excellence says we spend 8.5 hours staring into screens on any given day; the Bureau of Labor Statistics says we spend 2.7 hours per day on TV alone. And those screens are sucking some pretty serious energy usage. Auntie Ruth was shocked.

Take that little stack of boxes that run her TV and DVR and VHS and DVD—and their associated remotes that, if one were to diagram what the hell each of ’em does or doesn’t do would best resemble a tangled knot. How much energy do they eat? The set-top box alone consumes 446 kilowatt-hours a year—that’s 31 kilowatt-hours more than an Energy Star refrigerator, according to the National Resource Defense Council.

More than a refrigerator!

The damn box runs full tilt, according to The New York Times, “or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. … $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States—and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching.” And the DVR? NYT says that uses 40 percent more power than the set-top box.

To quote Auntie Ruth’s brother-in-law, retelling what he said when sex was first explained to him: “Whatta whatta whatta whatta whatta what?”

European boxes actually go to sleep, cutting the power draw in half. Not American boxes. Not yet—the Environmental Protection Agency will be tightening that up in 2013.

Just think: Someday, you’ll be dead. All those hours in front of the screen will be gone. And, somewhere nearby, will be a screen that still works great.