Ten Reasons to Moderate Your Use of Digital Platforms

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey breaks down the average American’s day as follows:

9.54 hours on personal care activities like sleeping, grooming, and health-related self care
5.26 hours on leisure and sports
3.46 hours working or doing work-related activities
1.78 hours on household activities like lawn care, food preparation, housework, vehicle maintenance, etc.
1.23 hours per day eating and drinking
.75 hours purchasing goods and services
.53 hours caring for and helping household members
.48 hours on educational activities
.32 hours on organizational, civic, and religious activities
.31 hours on other activities not elsewhere classified
.19 hours caring for nonhousehold members
.15 hours on telephone calls, mail, and e-mail

These numbers are revealing in at least a few contexts. Look at how little time is spent on caring for household and nonhousehold members, for instance. The lack of time spent on educational activities might be even more disturbing. Nevertheless, the data above doesn’t tell the full story concerning what many of us really do in our leisure moments. Another recent survey shows that the typical American web user spends 23 hours per week on digital platforms like email, text, and social networks, to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and so on. This amounts to nearly 3.3 hours per day that can never be recovered once it has been wasted on feckless online distractions. Following are ten reasons to moderate digital platform use.

  1. Wasting time on minutiae is a terrible idea. Why would anyone really care that 40% of Twitter users are Democrats, or that Prince is only 5’2″? Likewise, staccato texts written in bizarre mutations of shorthand spell an illiterate future for American culture. Most people are better off reading 1984 and Brave New World in order to determine if our society more resembles Orwell’s or Huxley’s dystopian vision.
  2. Getting unproductively angry over issues you can’t control is an even worse idea. If online culture warriors are as upset as they claim to be, they should at least climb out from behind their computer desks, walk down to City Hall, and air their grievances in a glorious public display of righteous indignation, where everyone can see them. They might even get arrested for behavior reflecting their online personas. Better yet, every online culture warrior should just buy a heavy bag and beat on it to exhaustion. This would make for more serene environments everywhere.
  3. Privacy issues. So much has already been said on this that I’m not sure what to add, but maybe it’s worth noting that even Facebook offers this warning to its users: “Your friends control who can see their friendships on their own timelines. If people can see your friendship on another timeline, they’ll be able to see it in news feed, search and other places on Facebook. They’ll also be able to see mutual friends on your timeline.” This means if you don’t properly safeguard yourself from your 666 Facebook friends, certain indiscreet portions of your life are an open book. Remember, too, that most of what you post through email can be recovered by any savvy IT staff member.
  4. Social networking makes you dwell on unhealthy past relationships. There is no was when you see a Facebook picture of your beaming ex holding someone else in his or her arms—someone who’s smarter, more attractive, and wealthier than you. Oh, and nicer, too.
  5. The use of digital platforms often leads to a sense of isolation. In her book Alone TogetherMIT professor Sherry Turkle argues that America’s obsession with online communities has led to a society of culturally inept isolatos who can’t function in the real world. Turkle goes so far as to suggest that “A behavior that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological.” If you’re surrounded by unbearable maladroits, now you know why.
  6. Emailing, texting, and social networking can result in deviant conformist behavior. Using digital platforms to satisfy your need to connect to others might also mean using the lives of others to define your own social context. In the process, what should have been a substantive identity (the one you used to have) disappears in the far reaches of cyberspace. In other words, those who consider themselves members of variously defined online settings accept group norms that require conformity and instill fear of rejection.
  7. What we input and output on digital platforms isn’t who we really are. Creating online meta-identities disfigures our actual identities, mainly because the real world requires us to take responsibility for our actions and encounter difficult (or breathtakingly beautiful) situations that lead to intellectual and emotional growth. Those hiding in cyberspace for extended periods shirk this duty and therefore deserve to be avoided at all costs—no one should have to suffer through the embarrassing discomfort of watching once-rational grown-ups assume horribly conceived personas and live out disturbing online fantasies.
  8. Spending too much time on digital platforms breeds narcissism. Tending to believe we are here mainly to validate ourselves serves no useful purpose and poisons otherwise pleasant relationships. Showing others you care for them in face-to-face settings means more than what passes for most email discourse or 140-character Twitter messages.
  9. For most people, the return on investment from digital platforms is $0. Whether we like to admit it or not, time does equal money. If you’re constantly accessing digital platforms but not earning money through email, texting, or social networking, you’re in a state of economic entropy, and in this case, decay is tied to the aging process.
  10. It’s a really nice day outside. Sitting in front of a computer or staring at a smart phone for endless hours isn’t helping. Please turn off your electronic device and go for a long walk.