Human beings spend more that 700 Billion minutes a month on Facebook. Breaking that down, the average user spends more than eleven hours per month on the site. That is a staggering amount of time.
The first time I saw those statistics, I felt almost sick. I had the gut reaction of “what are we as a species doing with our time?” Think of all the things that could be accomplished with 700 Billion minutes of human effort. And then I thought a little more about it… and changed my mind. Why?
For many human beings, I suspect that much of the time spent on social networks comes from time previously spent catatonically watching television. Unlike passively consuming tv, going onto Facebook and doing something as simple as commenting on honey badger videos or playing Farmville requires you as a person to engage, think, and act.
The ability to see what other human beings are doing increases our individual awareness of the world around us. We now have the ability to stay better informed, not just about the news of the world, but about the people we actually know – sometimes in excruciatingly vivid detail. When something strikes us as interesting enough, we comment, give a thumbs up, or share the story with others.
When we choose to share our own stories, photos, and silly updates, we are engaged in the act of creating. We are creating ideas, information, and conversation in time that would have been spent staring at a glowing, talking box. Yes, much of what happens on social networks is idle chit chat. Still, that same small talk has the power to build friendships and personal relationships.
Even watching television, yes I love television too, has changed from a passive act to a potentially social one. It is not odd to see people comment in real time about sporting events, sitcoms, movies, political debates, awards shows, and pretty much anything else that is on tv. Yes, people are still spending time watching television, but now it has become a more social act through online conversations on sites like Facebook and Twitter. We aren’t just watching, we talking, and listening, and laughing, and sharing.
Do we spend too much time online? Probably.
Is it better than how we used to spend our time? I think so.
Does the sheer number of minutes spent online translate into a negative? No.
700 Billion minutes a month on Facebook is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may be a very good thing.