Re-evaluating how we spend our time.
I recently discovered the android feature called Digital Wellbeing. This feature helps you track the time spent on your device and also tells you how many hours you’re spending on each app, how many times you’re unlocking your device a day, and how many notifications you’re getting everyday. I’ve been keeping track of my phone usage for a while now and the result is frightening.
I checked the statistics to see where I rank on the national and global averages. According to a study by Hootsuite, the average Nigerian spends about four hours and five minutes everyday on their device. This is the third in Africa, behind South Africa and Egypt, whose Internet users spend a staggering eight hours and 32 minutes, and eight hours, 10 minutes, respectively. Remember, these are just averages. Take Nigeria, for example. The number of middle-aged internet users is rising. People in this age cohort use their phones less than people in my age cohort and older (Gen Z and millenials). This probably drags the average down. If you were to compute only for Gen Z and millennial users, and I’m only speculating here, the average should be almost twice the national average.
I and most people around my age started using mobile phones at around the same time when the social media epidemic was getting started. I joined Facebook at around 12 or 13 years old. I joined other social media platforms few years later because it was the coolest thing to do. “Mention any social media and I’m on it” was once something to brag about.
Lately, though, I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship with these platforms. I hardly use my accounts these days, and I have even deleted some. Plus, the time I spend on them used to be outrageous. The worst part of all these is that you do them subconsciously. You pick up your phone to check the time and before you know it, you’re scrolling through pictures of unknown people on Instagram and laughing at not-so-funny tweets on Twitter. Three hours into this junk activity and you don’t even know what you have done with your time.
I’m not a Luddite, so I acknowledge the important roles these platforms play in people’s lives. It has helped to connect people, but is it still just about connection? It’s not. It’s an addiction. You don’t agree? Try uninstalling your WhatsApp or Twitter for two days and see if you can pull that through. Ah, I know what you’re thinking. “How will I get information? How will people reach me? ” But that’s the point. For the thousands of years before these platforms, how were people getting information?
If you think your addiction to these platforms is due to your lack of self-control, you’re mistaken. Software engineers at Facebook, Instagram, and other social media companies, put in a lot of work to ensure you spend more time on these platforms. In fact, that’s the purpose of it all. The more time you spend, the more information they get from you, the more targeted ads they serve you, the more money they make, etc. It’s strictly business in which we’re the products. There are all these subtle cues you don’t even notice that makes you stay longer on these platforms — the sound of the like button on Facebook, the bottomless Twitter feeds, the YouTube recommendation algorithm, etc, all of which serve to make you stay longer on the app. It’s no more about connectivity; it’s strictly business. If you’re curious about how this works, you can see the spectacular Netflix movie The Social Dilemma.
It even becomes trickier when you realise that the way we use these technologies are not the same way the elite tech founders use them. The Twitter founder is only on Twitter but not on Facebook nor Instagram; the Facebook founder is only on Instagram and Facebook, which are both Facebook-owned products; the Google founders are not on any of the social media platforms, if you remove parody accounts, of course. If tech elites do not brag about being on all social media accounts, why then should every other person do? Of course, you could give exceptions like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, but I’ll talk about those later.
Personally, I have decided to spend less time on these platforms. Even when I do, I want to do so only consciously, and not mindless scrolling. While this may be difficult for some people, one other way to use social media more effectively is to switch from being a consumer to being a creator. Don’t just consume other people’s contents; try to create yours too. Share your works online. Share your thoughts and ideas. You never know where it could take you. People like Elon Musk and Gates use social media for creation and not consumption. I can argue that they don’t spend countless hours scrolling through Twitter and Instagram feeds. Musk runs multi-billion dollar companies, so it’s okay for him to have a platform to communicate with his shareholders; Gates is a philanthropist, so it’s okay for him to share his works with the world. What are you doing with social media?
Back to statistics. I am slightly embarrassed to share how much time I’ve been spending on my phone, although I’m sure my situation is neither unique nor different from other people.
Let’s assume we all spend six hours every day mindlessly scrolling through funny memes and videos on Twitter and Instagram. (No jokes, some people spend more than ten hours.) That would be 25% of our day. If you add up the recommended eight hours of sleep everyday, that’s 14 hours already gone in a day. We have less than 10 hours to do every other thing, which include eating, cooking, bathing, etc. And yet we wonder why we don’t have enough time in a day.
Memes are good, and it’s okay to scroll through Twitter feeds once in a while, as long as you’re in control and you know when to drop Twitter and have a life!