How Much Time Can You Afford to Waste?

What did you do with your time 10 years ago. Or even 20? If you’re like me, in your 40’s, you can easily remember a time before computers, and even before cable television. You can probably remember writing letters (by hand) to friends and family, typing your college research papers on a typewriter, and the most exciting thing on television was the Carol Burnett Show and Mannix.

Yes, I realize I’m dating myself considerably, but I’m a child of the 60’s and 70’s, and our life was filled with such wonderments. In the mid-80’s, I took a job with the state that required me to learn how to use a computer (IBM XT anyone?) and a modem (300 baud, thanks!) to enter payroll information. I also typed the boss’s correspondence on the fancy 5″ floppy disks that came with the system, printing them out on a machine-gun-mimicking dot-matrix printer. At home at night, I cooked food on the stove (not the microwave – not every home had one then), and read a book or watched a little television before going to bed.

But by the next year, I had my own computer at home, with a modem connection that would dial into my server at work (by then I was working for a private college). I chatted on bulletin boards, had an awful lot of fun on IRC, and started working on designing web pages. Before the 90’s hit, everything I did at work, and much of what I did at home, was being done on a computer.

20 years later, and there are more computers than people in my house, we all surf, chat, and update our online selves endlessly, and the television is full of things no one should really be spending time watching. We have Kindles and iPods and smart phones and at least four working laptops in addition to three actively working desktops. Yesterday when I was stuck on the side of the road with a blown tire in a snowstorm, waiting for a tow truck, I kept myself busy updating facebook on my smart phone; that was after I surfed to the tire place’s website and got their phone number so I could call and tell them I was on my way and needed a new tire ASAP, so I could get to work where I’d sit in front of a computer all day doing everything I do.

And when I got home last night, I spent the majority of the night in front of my laptop, doing this and that, but mostly, goofing off. I updated facebook, put a post on my Twitter stream, wrote and published a new post on my personal blog, chatted with a friend through Yahoo Instant Messenger, piddled around playing TextTwist on Yahoo games, and did a little research on Celiac disease, which my son has just been diagnosed with. I did not pick up a single book, write a single letter by hand, and dinner was an oven meal that I didn’t have to do much preparation for.

I look at all the time I spend doing things like this, mostly goofing off on the Internet, and wonder where I should draw the line. I never did the MySpace thing, which seemed like a huge time-eater, but then I did the Facebook thing. I’ve stayed away from apps and games there, because it’s another time-waster and because those things seem to pass around viruses quicker than a snot-nosed kid in the local daycare. I have a Twitter account but only 7 followers and only 7 people I follow, and I’m about to kick one of them off because I don’t want to have all that time-wasting going on catching up on his “look at me” posts. I know there’s a lot of people on Twitter and I guess it has its place, but really, I don’t get it, and maybe I don’t want to. At what point do we all take a step back and pare down all of that hanging out and replace it with something a little more brain-worthy? There are only so many hours in a day; and time passes quickly (especially when you’re looking at that 50-year-mark looming ahead) and what do I want to be able to say I did with my life when the time comes?

“She was all over facebook.” “She was the hottest Twitterer out there.”

The fact is, when I’m spending an hour or two on facebook every day catching up on things and making witty posts that I hope my friends will respond in witty ways to, I have just lost two hours that I maybe should have used for something else. After all, I have this stack of books I’ve told myself I need to read, and at least a half-dozen novels in my head I should write, and I still want to learn to play guitar and throw pottery. At what point do I release myself from the (perceived) demands of my technology and remember that there is a world that exists outside of my flat panel monitor?

Just something to think about as we start to hope for spring and cabin fever is starting to set in.

2 thoughts on “How Much Time Can You Afford to Waste?

  1. Excellent post! I am definitely a geek, but I think technology can be incredibly dangerous when it isn’t appraised in a critical manner. How does Facebook and the thousand other social network sites change us? How much time are we spending feeding our own appetites for entertainment and the purely novel rather than being deeply involved in the lives of other people.

    Things like social networking technology have the potential for great good, but embraced unreflectively, they can easily degenerate into a megaphone for triviality and narcissism. The challenges inherent in these technologies are something that every human being who wants to think seriously about their own existence should consider.

  2. I loved your post. I spend a lot of time online because I write for my website. Sometimes I loathe the amount of time I spend in the virtual world. I have gotten to where I am trying to engage in dialogue, rather than trying to raise scores up on facebook.

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