Wasting or Saving Time?

May 7, 2012

The internet is a great tool…for wasting time.

Yeah, Al Gore’s invention gets a lot of flack.  Thanks to the interwebs, we now have a million little distractions right at our fingertips.  We have Lolcatz and Facebook, and websites with endless lists of utterly useless facts that keep us glued to our screens for hours.

Most of us in blog-land try to “unplug” for vacations, or at least a couple of weeks a year.  But the guy in this video is taking it to the next level.  He’s leaving the internet entirely behind…for an entire year.  Anything that would involve computers communicating with each other is strictly non-kosher.

It made me think, maybe all the time I waste online is cancelled out by the time I’m saving.  Hmmm…

The Olden Days of the Early Nineties

Last week, I felt like an octogenarian, describing to my students how I learned to use a library “card catalog” system as a grade school student.  The fact that we learned to sift through drawers of actual cards seems so absurdly arcane, I’d rather just scan the shelves until I happened upon a book I wanted.  And I was a student in the nineties.  The next week, we learned how to use microfiche.  Just saying that word makes me chuckle.

As a college student, we did not have YouTube to distract us, but we also did not have Wikipedia.  If we didn’t know a fact off-hand, we resigned ourselves to live in ignorance forever, because, as I already established, going to the library was a giant waste of time.

“Official” Knowledge

It makes me smile to myself that students complain that teachers still do not let them use Wikipedia as an official source for research.  It does not matter that the average time it takes for the Wikipedia community to correct an erroneous article is three minutes.  Wikipedia will never be Brittannica…which stopped being printed recently after two-hundred years.

Easier Plagiarism

To be honest, my job would not just be possible fifteen years ago.  Not just the part of my job I spend surfing Amazon.  With my art students, I’d be doomed to searching for expensive color prints of art, kept in a filing cabinet.  My yearbook students would still be cutting heads out of physical photographs to make awful looking collages.  (Now we just use Photoshop to make awful looking collages.)  And I’d be racking my brain for new projects, rather than just stealing them from Pinterest.

Getting Around

Speaking of wasting time, I think I’d rather stay lost than try to fold a road map.  And a map never told you the three nearest places to get ice cream.

So maybe we do waste a lot of time online.  But maybe it’s just time we’ve saved in other ways.  Just watch this video and see how long this guy spends trying to buy a phone.

What do you think?  Does the internet save more time than it wastes?  Would you unplug for a year?

17 responses to Wasting or Saving Time?

  1. The net does save time. A lot of it. And it does waste time. A lot of it.

    I think I will only unplug when God decides to unplug me (from this world).

  2. For the record, I didn’t watch the video. I have this thing where I just don’t typically watch videos on the internet. I think because usually I have the sound muted on my computer and it’s WAY too much effort to tap that button one more time.

    But anyway….

    I feel like “the internet” is a completely neutral object. “The internet” isn’t evil….but a lot of evil can be done with and through the internet. “The internet” isn’t good, but a lot of good can be done with and through the internet. It all depends on how you use the medium. But the medium itself is neither good nor bad, just a tool for you to use for good or for evil. Same as money. Same as food. Same as books. Or stuffed animals. Or a clothes dryer.

    Do I waste time with it? Sure, but I also waste time with a lot of other things. Does it save me time? Sure, but so do a lot of other things. Would I “quit the internet” for a year? Nope. Couldn’t do my job without it, and wouldn’t want to, even if I could. I live too far away from family and friends to do without such a useful tool.

    And it’s fun to play games.

  3. My husband saw a cartoon we quote to each other now: It was a single panel captioned “Life Pre-Google.”

    Guy 1: “I just thought of something I’d like to know more about.”
    Guy 2: “That’s a damn shame.”

  4. I was in college when the Internet was just becoming a thing. Not only do I remember microfiche, but I remember having to do interlibrary loans to get journal articles that my school didn’t have. The kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

    When I moved into a new house and was shopping around for internet service, I found out that my dad is still using dialup, believe it or not. He said that he wanted to still get email but didn’t want all the other distractions that are out there. It’s a nice thought but I don’t think I could do my job without a good connection–I have to have a link to the hospital so I can check patient labs while I’m at home and such.

    I’m of the opinion that teachers nowadays are really going to have to teach kids to think critically about the info that they get off the internet. I mean, if I go to the right website I could probably find “evidence” that I am actually my own grandpa right now. It’s like the wild west out there and kids need to know not to believe everything they read.

    Shoot, there’s a whole website (I can’t remember the name) devoted to the Facebook postings of people that think Onion articles are ‘real’. It’s kinda funny yet pathetic at the same time.

    • I agree that it is important to help kids really evaluate what they are reading online. As a teacher I’m really aware that a lot of kids are not learing critical thinking any more. Many of my students will believe almost anything they read on the internet or see on tv as true without taking the time to do the extra research to make an informed decision. I always challenge them to take the next steps to find the truth. On the other hand, I think the internet can be a great too. I love being able to find info about almost anything right at my fingertips. I would have killed to have the internet as a kid. My students can’t believe I am so old that I didn’t have a computer, internet acess or a cellphone as a kid. :)

  5. Fun fact: the guy in the video is Paul Miller. He’s a Christian and a super nice guy.

  6. Hi Matt,

    My favorite place for art is Olga’s Gallery at http://www.abcgallery.com/alfaind.html . The site collects each artist’s work from many sources including private collections. It’s well worth wasting a little time there. I wish it had been around years ago.


  7. The Internet is a brad term. There are more uses for it other than a web sites which range from bill payment systems to blogs and social media.

    I was thinking of my own usage and here is what I do a lot of.
    – Read 2 blogs, this one and Tony C Today.
    – I have a registration site for my training school at church.
    – Facebook because people at church really don’t want to see you face-to-face unless it’s Sunday.
    – Get and address to put in my GPS. Google is just better.
    – My health and nutrition log for the doctor.
    – Pay Bills.

    Could I unplug? I suppose my kids could and friends could actually call me. Facebook would be down. The registration site for the school? Paper would work, but we get a lot of folks in the region, not just our fellowship – so I assume we would not be as popular. Getting addresses would be a real pain. That would hurt the most. My health log would only be reviewed on doctor’s visits and all that messages that it automatically generates when something looks awry would not be available.

    I could unplug, but it would end up costing more time. I could live off my smart phone and never use a real PC again. I could even manage a few days a month for what I actually need to do.

    The internet saves me a lot of time, but it is a productivity tool for me. Even as a web designer since 1993, I don’t use a lot of the web – it’s just not that interesting.

  8. As someone else said, the internet wastes a lot of time AND saves a lot of time. Perhaps a more accurate way to say it is: I waste a lot of time AND save a lot of time on the internet. I could afford to cut my internet usage by a couple hours a day, and I’d probably get more work done. On the other hand, I could not sell my art as easily or as world-widely without the internet.

    Occasionally I discipline myself to limit my internet usage to essentials only, but I wouldn’t try going a year without it.

    What would I miss the most? Probably the interaction with people all over the world, and the knowledge that is only a few clicks away.

  9. I love the internet and as a teacher, I use it a LOT, especially this year as we were studying the 20th century. The kids were able to watch the Kennedy/Nixon debates and several speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. on youtube. I love being able to download movies and documentaries. And we use youtube for worship songs with lyrics on some days.

    Facebook, as addicting as it can be helps me keep track of family that is 1800 miles away. I had to take a time out because with Midwest friends and family and new friends and family, I was spending more time keeping track of them than spending non-school time with my kids. I’m back right now with a focus on family and church friends so that I literally can not spend too much time on it.

    I like Abby’s comment about teaching kids how to evaluate the veracity of information the get off the net, although I think some adults could use the same lessons. The internet is very efficiently spreading misinformation as well as and, IMBO, too much personal information about people who should not be in the news. I remember trying to use the internet to determine if I should be concerned with my sons drinking soy milk because they are lactose intolerant. Someone told me that soy milk has a plant-based progesterone that can interfere with/alter their physical development and I wanted to read for myself. I found a wealth of information on opposing sides of the question. I decided that it was a no-win situation, so I decided to just watch my boys and if they start developing breasts, it is a pretty clear sign that they should stop drinking it. So far, so good.

    • The internet is a pretty freaky place to try to get medical advice (I like your approach :) but I have found it useful for learning about all the new ‘alternative’ theories about stuff. For instance, I one had a whole rash of referrals for “parasite infections” that turned out to be diagnosed by a chiropracter in town that was doing “whole blood analysis”. I didn’t even know that racket existed until I googled it.

  10. I love all the information that is so readily availble on the internet. I use it a lot as a teacher too. But personally I’m so busy with the rest of my life that I have limited time to waste on the internet. (Thus the reason I’m normally reading blog posts in the middle of the night when I do get a chance.) I have very limited free time. I decided years ago that since people were so important to God, they probably should be important to me too, so I try to spend a lot of the extra time with them. Certainly that can include reading and posting on people’s blogs as well. But I try to make sure my time with people is real and meaningful and has some depth. I try not to get sucked into the swirling time vortext that is social media too much.

  11. This is a tough question! I definitely struggle with wasting time online, but I also get so much done.

    I don’t think I could unplug for a year and while a weekend offline is nice, I find myself craving it (oops, I might be addicted).

    For me the internet has quickly resolved arguments with my wife, helped me stay connected with friends and family near and far, and take the leap to writing.