I doubt that anybody could present a fact-supported case that social media platforms are not an integral part of the Major Paradigm Shift Underway in America. In fact, I could build a strong case that these platforms are a key enabler of the shift, possibly even a major component of the fuel that is driving it.
Consider this. … The most conservative report I found of the average time spent per day by people who use social media, by platform, is: YouTube, 40 minutes; Facebook, 35 minutes; Snapchat, 25 minutes; Instagram, 15 minutes; and Twitter, 1 minute [Source: www.adweek.com]. It is unclear what degree of mix of these numbers applies to a particular person, and therefore whether they are additive — i.e., whether a particular person uses only one of these platforms, two or three of them, or all of them. The most generous reports seemed unrealistically high to me for averages — several hours in some cases.
To the point that is the subject of this post, I think I would be safely conservative in using somewhere between thirty minutes and an hour as the average time that an average person who uses social media spends on one or more platforms.
How Much Time Per Day Do We Control?
The consensus among medical experts on how many hours of sleep a person needs each night is about eight. Various sources I accessed while writing this post indicate that appropriate minimum amounts of time for other “essentials” are 90 minutes for eating and 30 minutes for personal hygiene. Subtracting these times from 24 hours yields 14 hours as the average amount of time each day a person has available for work and discretionary time.
The current business cycle [late 2007 to now] is the longest since 1947, and is one of the slowest-growth periods since the end of World War II. Although both hours worked and output have grown at below-average rates during this cycle, output has grown notably slower than its historical average. The result is an historically low labor productivity growth rate of 1.1 percent [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Estimates of “average work week” are all over the map because “clocked hours” is the only way to track this statistic and many millions of salaried employees don’t “clock in and clock out”. The average of various surveys I reviewed is 47 hours per week [since it won’t lead to significantly different conclusions here, I’ll use 49 hours per week (7 hours per day) to keep my numbers round]. Subtracting 7 from the 14 above yields 7 hours as the average amount of time each day a person has available for discretionary time [for retired people, of course, the number stays at 14].
So What Activities Got Displaced By Social Media Activity?
Social Media didn’t exist at the beginning of the current business cycle [late 2007], and the smartphone era was only a few months old. So the question to which we should all want an answer is “What did we give up in order to provide the time we spend on social media?”. The obvious corollary question is “Was it a good trade?”. A followup question I find intriguing is “Is there a trend toward increasing amounts of time being spent on social media [and therefore toward more and more other activities losing our attention]?” — and the obvious corollary to that question is: “Are those trades good ones or bad ones?”.
I don’t have a research staff to ferret out data that would provide fact-supported answers to questions like these, but I’d speculate that what would probably come out of that kind of research would be very similar to the following:
- Social media are at least partially responsible for the lowest productivity this country has experienced since World War II — for the simple reason that every minute a person “takes off” at work for interaction with people on social media is at least a minute of unproductive paid time [“at least” because of the Learning Curve Effect — i.e., taking one’s mind off of one activity to focus on another requires some “learning curve” time to get back into the “groove” of the first activity].
- Whatever activities we have given up to provide the discretionary time we spend on social media were probably activities we would not have given up by choosing to do so — i.e., they waned because social media activity left us with less discretionary time available, and they were the ones that fell off our daily “radars” because we “just didn’t have time for them”.
- Statistics on use of social media by teens indicate that future generations of adults will use social media more than adults today use it [and that what they do on social media will certainly not contribute to increased national productivity].
If I had to summarize my overall point here in a sentence, I’d say that we should all consciously maintain an awareness of how much time we spend on social media, periodically think about what life activities seem to be feeling more “distant”, and make decisions about the relative values to us of activities that consume our time. Just for perspective, assuming an 85-year lifespan, a 40-year-old person who spends 45 minutes a day on social media will within that year have consumed 0.24% of his/her life’s remaining discretionary hours doing so; a 60-year-old, 0.43%; an 80-year-old, 2.14%; and an 84-year-old, 10.71%. So project yourself to the closest of these ages to yours and think of it this way: “This year, do I want to spend …% of the remaining hours of discretionary time in my life doing this?”. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the room where an average/typical American asks him/herself that question.
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Charles M. Jones