Monday, May 9, 2016

Facebook For Fifty Minutes a Day: Is It Worth It?

Future Shock (noun) 1. a state of distress or disorientation due to rapid social or technological change. (Popularized by the author Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book of the same name)

Fifty minutes a day.

According to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, this is the average amount of time that Facebook’s 1.65 billion users worldwide now spend on the site in a given 24 hour period, along with its other social media, Instagram and Messenger. Fifty minutes. I confess up front that this figure works for me as an “average” Facebook consumer. Almost every day since I joined the site seven years ago, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ve spent upwards of nearly an hour daily, consuming and being consumed by Facebook and its addictive, compelling and infinite collection of content. Cat videos and graduation photos. Political screeds and baby pictures. Updates on where my “friends” are and what they are doing at any given moment in time. 

Fifty minutes daily.

This means that since January 2009, I’ve spent 2,662 hours, or 110 days of my life, glued to the Facebook scroll.  Clicking and surfing and reading and commenting and staring at a brightly lit screen, about a foot or so from my face.  Extrapolate Facebook’s numbers to the world and you get some mind bending figures.  Every day, Facebook users, who make up about one third of the world’s population (above 15 and below 80 years old): these folks spend 82.5 billion minutes on the site and similar social media platforms. That’s 1.375 billion hours. 

But that only fifty minutes, today, right?  Not that much time. 

Actually, fifty minutes, in the context of how an average American spends his or her time each day: it is a lot of time.  From a May 5th “New York Times” article: “The average time that users spend on Facebook is nearing an hour. That’s more than any other leisure activity surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the exception of watching television programs and movies (an average per day of 2.8 hours). It’s more time than people spend reading (19 minutes); participating in sports or exercise (17 minutes); or social events (four minutes). It’s almost as much time as people spend eating and drinking (1.07 hours).”

Makes me wonder what haven’t I done in the past seven years when I’ve chosen to surf Facebook and failed to do something else with my free time. I’ve probably skipped going to the gym several times. Neglected phone calls to friend. Procrastinated from getting back to work.  Prayed a little less. Forgotten to take a walk and get outside or ride my bike. It is sobering to think of all that time I’ve given over, given up, to the world’s most ubiquitous social media site. 

It is breathtaking, even shocking, to consider how fast (in less than ten years) Facebook and other social media has become seemingly irreplaceable in so, so many of our lives, especially the young. I use it to promote my work, spread the Gospel, keep up with friends, connect with parishioners, follow current events, connect with fellow writers and clergy and my choir, and to entertain myself.  Social media has absolutely taken center stage in our culture.  There is no turning back.      

But like any historic epoch, which the explosion of social media marks (for comparison consider the invention of written language, the printing press, or film), this life changing tool must be handled with great care. Like fire it can illuminate life for us or it can consume life for us. As in fifty minutes a day. 

Because for all I love Facebook and social media I also fear and loathe it too.  For the way it sucks me in to what I call the “Facebook fog”. One minute I’m reading and scrolling and the next minute I look up and it’s been an hour of surfing and I’ve gotten nothing done and wasted all that time. Facebook scares me for its propensity to take the most complex political and social issues and whittle these down to a simplistic opinion, creating space where folks mostly talk at each other, not to each other.  Facebook sells the idea of community and “friends” yet fails to satisfy the most basic human need: to physically be with others. 

Fifty minutes and Facebook. 

We’ve all got about 16 waking hours this day to use as we see fit. To work. To play. To connect to others. To make the world a better place. To love. To just be alive. Sixteen hours given to us by God. It is precious time which once consumed, will never, ever come back again and within this, is our Facebook fifty minutes. 

So here’s the question. Is it worth it?




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