I read in this month's issue of Discover magazine that the average American spends 5 hours daily watching TV, 2 hours listening to radio, 2 hours of leisure time on the internet or a computer program, 1 hour gaming, 36 minutes reading and 27 minutes listening to recorded music. (The survey counted time doing two things at once towards both activities. So if you listen to the radio while you play a game for an hour, that's one hour gaming and one hour listening to the radio.)
These numbers are "one age, fits all" so I don't know where the average teen would fall. I suspect teens spend less time watching TV and more time reading and listening to music, but that's just a guess. Teens with their own TVs and computers probably spend more time on those devices than teens who have to share with the rest of the family.
Here's another statistic from Discover: last year, Americans sent 110 billion text messages. That's a lot of text messages! The population of the U.S. is about 300 million (308 million actually) and 110 billion divided by 300 million is about 366 text messages per person in 2009. And I don't think babies are texting that much.
My point isn't so much "these are the activities writers are competing against" as it is "how do your characters match up against these statistics?"
If you want your character to be isolated in a danger situation, for example, what happens to the phone, the computer, the iTouch, the Facebook page, the constant interaction between people even if they're not great friends? Maybe your character can't afford a phone or a family computer, but maybe it's more powerful to have all these things and still be isolated.
In one of the most memorable scenes in Gone With the Wind, Melanie may be dying in childbirth and Scarlett is trying to find her medical help. But when she runs to the hospital, the wounded soldiers are lying outside on stretchers for yard after yard after yard. Nobody can afford to care about Melanie. If Scarlett could've called, texted, and emailed the hospital, it wouldn't have changed a thing.
I'm thinking about this as I write my current WIP, which takes place in the future. I imagine people would be constantly connected. "No phone" wouldn't even be an option. I have to make sure my characters have nobody to go to for help instead. Well, I can add some physical isolation later on, but the emotional isolation has to come first.
We're all connected to so many people these days, and connected to the world in many different ways. How does that affect your characters?
-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages