Is Social Media a Waste of Time?

Last year, I read a blog post that challenged my thinking. It felt true, but I didn’t want it to be true!

From James Shelley

I’m looking for agreement, disagreement, or reflections on the following proposition:

Time spent reading social timelines is time lost. Scrolling through a timeline is time consumed by the curated projections of other people’s lives, which are absorbed wholly and only at the cost of living your own. Or, to put it another way: time spent on timelines amounts to time spent not living your life. Spending your time on a timeline is valuable only to the extent you define value in your life by the amount of your life spent reading about the lives of others. Time spent on a timeline is not time paused, it is life extracted. On average, then, time spent reading timelines is irredeemable and wasted.

If the most immediate value we derive from timelines is that they distract us from ourselves — from the lives we are living, here and now — how much value should ascribe to them?

What do you think?

Mr. Shelley’s proposition that “time spent reading timelines is irredeemable and wasted” appears logical and true! Yet I would vastly prefer that it wasn’t true, because I enjoy online chit-chat.

So as part of my digital detox, I’ll unpack my response to his proposition.

What is a Curated Projection?

Yes, we can use the internet to put forth a carefully selected and positive image of ourselves. That’s why Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are full of carefully chosen photos, humblebrags, and overly-effusive expressions of gratitude designed to mask one’s smugness. When you look at someone’s social media profile, you might be seeing a curated projection. Our projections are not us any more than a posed family photo is that family.

And I agree that spending hours each week looking at these projections, praising them, and posting projections of our own is a fat ugly waste of time. Life is short!

But does all social media use consist of these projections? No.

What do I Value?

When it comes to interacting with people on the internet, the things I value most fall into four categories:

1 - People who write (blog) about interesting topics, adding to my knowledge and/or provoking my curiosity.

2 - Glimpses into unfamiliar worlds, usually via photographs, giving me a chance to see something I can’t experience at home.

3 - Back-and-forth conversation with smart, interesting, and friendly people. The kinds of interactions that could become real-world friendships if/when the opportunity arises.

4 - Sharing my writing, photos, and interests - because self-expression is fun and it creates a record of my life that I can revisit down the road.

As I review my list, I’m noticing that blogging fits these categories much better than traditional social media does. But I do get some of these things on Twitter as well. Instagram could also be a good fit for me if Facebook wasn’t such a garbage company.

What About Time Wasted?

If I spend my days continually dipping into the internet and ignoring the world around me, then I’m using social media as a pacifier to the detriment of my flesh-and-blood life. But because ideas, curiosity, self-expression, and potential friendships are important to me, social media is worth some of my time! But how much?

I’ll draw a line in the sand and say a maximum of one hour per day. And preferably taken in one long chunk in the early evening, where it won’t distract me from the real world.

Conclusions

Ultimately, I agree with the proposition that time spent solely on curated projections is wasted time. But I believe that the social internet is broader and more valuable than crappy manifestations of social media would lead us to believe.


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