I've been noticing that I spend a lot of time online. I don't have a lot of social media accounts to manage but nonetheless I've been feeling like the time I've spent wasn't worth much. Sure, I've started some discussions on topics I think are important and I've learned a lot from other's point of view, but what has the net balance to all of this online perusing been? Did I really gain anything or add to the world in any meaningful way?
The question began when I started seeing posts and news articles online of people complaining about the "rudeness" of youth these days and how they can be in a room full of their friends and not physically interact with any of them. They instead have their faces plastered to some screen be it a phone, iPod, tablet or PC. I have a teenager and I have seen this first hand. He gets so wrapped up in something on his iPod that he can't even finish walking across the room. He'll take a step or two and stop then start up again over and over while staring at the screen. I remember thinking, "Geez man, come on!" Then I noticed myself do the exact same thing later that day.
I then started to pay a little more attention to what I was doing each day. I use my phone to read news articles posted by others a LOT. For me Facebook is more of a news aggregator than a place to talk with friends. I like to see what items percolate to the social surface. I then scan fact-checking sites on topics raised by those articles to see how often and in which way people like to slant the sound bites. If the subject continues to interest me, then I'll search deeper. Depending on the subject, this can consume quite a bit of time until I feel like I have an understanding of the important points.
I also noticed that I rather enjoy debate. It gets the juices flowing and I feel is beneficial to me in that it reminds me how to think critically. I especially enjoy debating when the person I'm talking with is discussing the topic rationally. In these discussions, I always learn something new and at the end, feel I've gained some insight.
On the other hand, there are far more instances where people just want to incite rather than debate. In their minds the act of debate always ends with a winner and loser. So they have a strategy to win rather than a position to present. My problem is that I'm too easily pulled into these flame wars. I started to realize this a few months ago and began to simply say "ok..." as if to pat them on the head and move on.
In December, I wondered how much time I was spending vs doing something else so; I decided that for the month of January, I wouldn't consume any social media or news media content. No Facebook or twitter. No NPR, Huff Post, or BBC - just my immediate goings on with work, family and friends.
Now, this was complicated by two current atypical consumers of time - a new and very time consuming project at work and helping my wife after her foot surgery. Both of which offset any meaningful calculation of time saved especially in the first two weeks of the month. However, I can estimate that I likely saved on any given weekday around 2 hours. On the weekends, probably 3-4 hours were reclaimed from the screen. That adds up to between 16 and 18 hours a week spent on something that did not produce income for my family, better myself in a real meaningful way or better the world in some way.
I realize that some of my posts were entertaining to others and Facebook has helped me keep in touch with my friends and family who are scattered all over. Certainly in these cases, this was time well spent. However, do I really need to spend this much time online?
Over the past few days, I looked back over some posts and have determined that in my absence the following happened:
- Republicans and Democrats still think each other are the devil.
- George Takei is still awesome!
- Celebrities are actual real people with problems and things that make them happy - Is it ANY of my business?
- There are starving people everywhere and even after many millennia of human history, we still can't or won't fix it.
- There are awful, terrible things happening to good people and likewise, there are awful, terrible people who have it all, and fairness has nothing to do with it.
- Grumpy Cat is still, well, you know.
- You can't change the mind of an irrational person through reason.
- People still see the world as they would have it rather than see it as it is.
- There are people who love bacon in an inappropriate way.
- There were a large number of birthdays in January.
- There was a "debate" between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.
So, basically, like most soap operas, you can put it down and pick it back up at any time and, although the faces are different, nothing has changed. It is kind of depressing, actually. Although, I may have to look up the Nye/Ham video - sounds good for a laugh.
Now for what I did miss:
- I missed out on some cool pictures that some of my friends posted. I can like them now but those conversations are in the moment and those moments have passed.
- I missed hearing about some of my family and friends days and personal posts. It really is interesting to me to know that others have similar joys and pains as me. Plus, people just are interesting.
- I do feel that not reading or listening (in the case of NPR) to current affairs for long periods of time would limit my ability to make responsible civil decisions or to understand opposing points of view.
- Science stories - I just missed learning about far off geeky stuff!
So, what's the take-away here?
In my reclaimed time, I began working in electronics again and re-discovered my love for it. I'm working on some home automation ideas but before I can get to all of that, I need to re-learn the basics. Plus, not having Facebook on my phone kept me in the moment more with my family. I played with my youngest son more, picked on my oldest more, and enjoyed distraction free time with my wife.
So, I have some new rules for myself.
- No more social media on my phone.
- No Facebook or news sites during working hours.
- Try to become more of a content generator rather than a content consumer.
It seems that I repeatedly need to be hit over the head with the message that balance in all things makes one happier. On to the next thing...