Who did people spend time with in 2020?

Hi, this is Aya from the support team at Datawrapper. You can usually find me answering questions at support@datawrapper.de, updating the Academy, or setting up your custom design themes.

Like so many of us, I spent a lot of time alone last year, mostly inside the confines of my tiny apartment. I still remember how long the first lockdown felt. But as I got used to the new way of living — masks, social distancing, antigen tests, and wondering how tall my colleagues are in real life — days blurred into weeks and then into months. To stay oriented, I started tracking how I was spending my time in my calendar. So naturally, I was curious how others had spent their time in 2020.

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published the 2020 results of the annual American Time Use Survey (ATUS). The survey includes data on where, with whom, and how people spent their time, including how much alone time everybody got in 2020:

All household groups were awake for an average of around 15 hours a day. So for those living by themselves, they spent 11 out of those 15 hours engaged in activities alone. This somehow comforts me that I wasn't alone in my alone-ness during this period. How does your experience compare with the survey data?

Now, when I say "alone-ness," I don't mean "loneliness." Last year, I learned that just because you're physically alone, it doesn't mean you have to be apart from others. I actually managed to catch up more with my friends and family over video calls, and felt especially closer to those who live far away. I suddenly had options to attend events happening around the world that were now online due to the pandemic.

Online events weren't the only new thing to do last year. Here are some examples of activities that people took on which were added to the survey lexicon in 2020. (See the full lexicon here.)

- Skyping with my sister
- FaceTime/Video chat with friends
- teleworking (main job)
- meeting with doctor virtually for telehealth/telemedicine appt
- getting tested for COVID-19 at stand-alone testing site
- getting temperature check at church
- watching shows on Netflix/Hulu or similar technology
- making podcast
- making a TikTok video

There were a lot of changes for households with children as well. In 2020, many schools went into remote learning, which brought some new responsibilities for parents and other adults — like "sitting with household child during their virtual/web/online class," and "teaching household child long division." Men and women both spent more time with children on education-related activities, but the changes seem to have been greater for women:

What I found most interesting about the survey was its method — the time-use diary — where each respondent was asked to track and report their activities for one 24-hour day. This is something I found useful to incorporate in my own life. During the pandemic, I started writing down in my calendar notebook how and with whom I spent my time (virtually or physically), and how I felt after certain interactions.

Now that I'm slowly starting to spend more time outside of my apartment, I notice that I'm more conscious than I was before the pandemic about how I spend my time with others. For me, the past year raised questions like: What does it mean to spend time in a place or with a person? Do we have to be physically present in the same location to share moments and experiences? If so, for what kind of activities and why? What does it mean to be engaged in an activity with someone else? I’m trying to use my time wisely — down to the minute.

That's it for this week! How has the pandemic affected how and who you spend your time with? Do you track how you use your time in any way? Let me know in the comments below or write to me at aya@datawrapper.de. We'll see you next week!

Further readings and inspirations