Ranked: Here’s how much time Cambridge students are spending on their phones based on their subject

In a twist everyone saw coming, the humanities spend more time on their phone…

Let’s be honest, we all love nosing through people’s phones.

Since the introduction of the screen time function, the obscene amount of time we all spend on our phones is painfully obvious. Curious to see if our ungodly screen time was a symptom of too much free time and a lack of contact hours,  I reached out to 10 Cambridge students from 10 different subjects to investigate the correlation between Tripos and time spent on your phone. 

Working hard or hardly working? (Photo Credit: Katie Thacker)

Like any good investigative journalists, we made sure to reach out to a wide range of people (10 people is a wide range these days, thanks to Covid) from a wide range of subjects to figure out which subjects are the most addicted to their phones.

We then ranked them on incredibly technical, scientific categories, such as what this implies about their commitment to their degree, or the probability that they are, in fact, a zombie. In true Cambridge fashion, these are of course based on literally nothing, but their screen use and my prejudices about their subjects.

What would the results be? Would this groundbreaking investigative journalism win us national acclaim? Do we really spend over 6 hours on our phones every day?

We’re guessing the answer to that second question is a big fat NO, but hey, it might make some enjoyable reading:

1) History: 11 hours 41 minutes

The truly impressive and prize winning 11h and 41m from Kailan, a history fresher (Photo Credit: Kailan)

Racking up an impressive 11 hours and 41 minute average, our history rep really pulled out the stops to claim that top spot. Kailan, a history fresher, feels “quite disgusting” and “guilty” for claiming 1st place in the race that no one wants to win.

In his defence, the screenshot used for the article was taken during the holidays, and since starting term, it has dramatically decreased to around 5 hours a day, not even high enough to reach the top 5.

Like myself, Kailan takes notes on his iPad and has racked up over 20 hours on Notability this week, and with teaching completely online there isn’t much surprise that he is spending so much time using his screens. 

Asked if his screen limits work, he said that the screen limits “do nothing” – like most us, he ignores them, and just clicks for more time. He also added that he could “absolutely not” go without his phone for a week.

Dedication to phone level: 11/10

Dedication to degree level: 5/10

Chances they’re a zombie: 9/10 (If I didn’t know Kailan was a lovely guy I’d have my doubts)

2) HSPS: 11 hours 23 minutes

In second place, Ell, an HSPS student, spent an average of 11 hours and 23 minutes per day on her phone over the holidays. However, like Kailan, she assures me that now term has started, her screen time (on her phone) has dramatically dropped, and she now spends around 4 hours a day instead.

She said that she was unsurprised that she ranked so highly, as she had lots of free time and “was trying to keep in contact with people from uni.”

With term being online, Ell told me she has become more conscious of her screen time, and so has been turning her phone off whilst working during the day.

Dedication to the phone level: 8/10 (whilst 11hrs is pretty impressive, turning the phone off to work shows commitment)

Dedication to the degree level: 6/10

Chances they’re a zombie: 4/10

3) History and Modern Languages: 8 hours 47 minutes

Abby in a rare moment without her phone getting that snap for the gram (Photo Credit: Abby)

Abby, an HML student, took third spot on our list with 8h 47m spent on her phone a day, and surprisingly, the only one to have TikTok as their most used app.

Abby said that if she could only use one app for a day it would definitely be Spotify; “it’s an absolute must.” She also guessed that science students would probably have a higher screen time because of their “calculators.” (Abby is going to be in for a surprise when she reads this!)

Dedication to the phone level: 8/10

Dedication to the degree level: 7/10

Chances they’re a zombie: 8/10 (once you go down the TikTok rabbit hole, very little can save you)

4) MML: 6 hours 54 minutes

Alex’s new and improved screen time, sans the Insta (Photo Credit: Alex)

Alex – a self professed “boozy and easily distracted linguist” – ranked 4th in this investigation.

Alex said that his phone was what he reached for in idle moments, “which there are lots of”, but since starting online term, they have deleted both Instagram and TikTok to manage distractions better. Since doing so, he has started reading for pleasure more, but regained lost screen time on Snapchat (oh the perils of social media).

Dedication to the phone level: 6/10

Dedication to the degree level: 5/10 (“boozy and easily distracted”? Not the best mix for a self motivated term)

Chances they’re a zombie: 3/10

5) History and Politics: 6 hours 18 minutes

Not even punting under the Bridge of Sighs gets me off my phone (Photo Credit: Author’s Own)

Next up we have my screen time representing the elusive HisPols, (an average that has gone up 20 mins just whilst writing this article ahhh).

An average of 6 hrs 18 mins a day, despite having my phone off for the majority of January, was easily racked up with Netflix, social media, and a sprinkling of work. I’ve found it pretty difficult to have a complete phone detox with lots of group chats happening on WhatsApp, and work commitments dictating high phone usage.

Dedication to the phone level: 7/10 (Reluctantly addicted)

Dedication to the degree level: 6/10

Chances they’re a zombie: 8/10 (I’d be suspicious)

6) Medicine: 4 hours 50 minutes 

Repping the first science subject to reach the list, Ewan, a medic, totted up a mediocre 4 hours 50 mins a day. Ewan thought that he would have ranked higher, saying that he felt he spent a normal amount of time.

Dedication to the phone level: 5/10

Dedication to the degree level: 9/10 (lets be real, the medics and vetmeds are the only real degrees going)

Chances they’re a zombie: 10/10 (probably been vaccinated against it)

7) Natural sciences: 3 hours 43 minutes

Minnie, a self-conscious NatSci, asked me to “deNatSci” her comments (even the NatScis are embarrassed about being NatScis), so I thought it best to refrain from quoting her directly (JK, Minnie is v eloquent).

Representing the NatScis, and ranking only 7th on the list, Minnie spent a pretty respectable 3hr 43m on her phone per day. Split between Instagram and Snapchat if she could only have one app for the day, Minnie does a great job disproving the stereotype that NatScis are anti-sociable creatures, and finally concludes that if she wanted to be on her phone for a day, it would definitely be Instagram.

Minnie added that the online term makes her want to go on her phone less because she spends all day looking at a screen anyway, but that procrastination gets the better of her so her screen time increases anyway.

Dedication to the phone level: 6/10

Dedication to the degree level: 7/10 (I know for a fact Minnie gets all her work done in the morning)

Chances they’re a zombie: 2/10

8) Engineering: 3 hours 40 minutes

Photo Credit: Perry

It’s pretty scary to think that 3hr 40m is almost half the average screen time on this list.

Perry told me that the first thing he does in the morning is check his phone for any “important messages or emails. And then I go on social media”. (It’s well known that Outlook is the gateway app).

As an international student working from home this term, Perry said that it’s definitely more challenging than last term, and that he has to be on his phone a lot to communicate with his lab partner.

Dedication to the phone level: 4/10

Dedication to the degree level: 8/10 (Checking your emails first is pretty dedicated)

Chances they’re a zombie: 3/10 (But chances he’s a grandpa 9/10, 11hr on Facebook doesn’t lie).

9) History of Art: 2 hours

The only humanity to make it below an average of 5hrs a day, but is anyone really surprised?

Poppy, a History of Art student, told me she had moved all of her socials to an iPad to stop her getting distracted and cut down on screen use, and managed to get it from 3hours 31mins to 2hours (I did the same and it really didn’t change anything, but the size of the screen I looked at, whoops).

Poppy added that “online term has definitely increased screen time just because I don’t have friends to chat to in-between work so I just go on socials.”

Dedication to the phone level: 4/10

Dedication to the degree level: 6/10

Chances they’re a zombie: 1/10 (I feel like History of Art students are too classy to be zombies).

9) Economics: 1 hour 24 minutes 

Coming up a distant last, we have Adam representing economics. (Photo Credit: Adam)

In a feat of truly Olympian self-control Adam, an economics fresher, managed to total an average of 1 hour and 24 minutes a day! I set my screen limit to 2 hours and still don’t stick to it.

Asked if he was surprised to rank the lowest, Adam said that he was “defo [sic] surprised” and that he thought his screen time was “quite a lot” (I’m not sure how that makes me feel about my 6 hours+).

Dedication to the phone level: -2/10 (I am seriously impressed that this is an average and not just a one off)

Dedication to the degree level: 8/10

Chances they’re a zombie?: 10/10 (not sure I can trust someone who spends 1 hour a week on Snapchat OVERALL).

A cheeky graph to reward you for getting through that, and hopefully make you feel better about your screen use. (Photo Credit: Author’s Own)

And there you have it, a very limited study into the screen use of Cambridge students, and the Cambridge subjects. Besides the heart-attack I got from reading my screen time and realising how much of my life I was wasting, I wasn’t massively surprised by the results.

Maybe it’s being a phone addicted humanities student or maybe it’s me buying in to the idea that the humanities aren’t “real subjects”, but if I had had to put money on the outcome, I would have guessed the humanities would top the charts (we’re best at everything really). Honestly, the most shocking discovery was that quite sociable people (looking at you Adam) could spend such little time on their phone.

Maybe the economists know something we don’t…

Cover image credit: Rosie Smart-Knight

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