Time Suck: Is the web useful or just a drain on resources?
It’s a question that I’ve been pondering on a fair bit recently, and it is pretty pertinent to me given I work 40+ hours a week building websites. Is the web really worth it? The obvious answer would be ‘yes’. Where else can I get instant access to news, communication with friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers anywhere in the world, entertainment whenever I want it, however I want it or information at the click of a button.
On the face of it all those reasons seem to overwhelmingly in favour of the web. However if you read them again, I think there’s two questions we need to ask, who are they centred around? And are they really needed?
I came up with those reasons in about the time it took to type them, and it’s telling how me centred they are. All of them are true and probably good in themselves but if they are solely about me and my good then I don't think they outweigh the cost.
There are many costs to the internet, but the main cost I'm thinking of here is the time we spend making use of it in our daily lives. For most of us that's probably a significant amount of social media access and work emails, maybe reading articles too. In that time we have great fun (or just procrastination) on social media, conversing with, liking or stalking friends or acquaintances across the country and the world and we try to be really productive shooting emails to all the people we need to contact.
What all that time spent being ‘productive’ online doesn’t show is all the less ‘efficient’ time it causes us to miss. We have less time to actually make progress at work; pop round to a neighbour for tea (at least not without checking our phones every 5 minutes); spend time chatting with our kids - or playing trains! - or even simply relaxing in a hot bath or with a good book.
Digital technology promises to make our lives easier by making our everyday tasks quicker and less irksome. The issue is we’ve developed such a dependency that it’s difficult to switch off from it. Sure I can be contactable wherever I am, but maybe my phone should be switched off when I’m at the park with my boys. We need to be able to prioritise the phone back into the pocket, not in our hands or on the table.
So my answer to the question… yes. The internet is useful, use it as a tool; but it is also a time suck, it’s not neutral, facebook, google, the apps you use all want you to use them more not less. Naturally we’ll follow the path of least resistance, and technology use is easy and gratifying. My point is, be aware that there is a whole world out there, with real interactions to be had, be intentional in using this great tool, don’t be its tool.
This topic needs a lot more thought. I’m planning to write a bit more on it, but in the meantime please chime in in the comments.