In his now controversial bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell postulated the idea that if one spent 10,000 hours in practice or preparation in a given field that person could reach “expert” or “master” level. While it may be true that “practice” is how one could get to Carnegie Hall – even 10,000 hours spent practicing won’t turn the average musician into a concert virtuoso.
Moreover, 10,000 hours spent playing random games of chess may not help one become a grand master, although it could be argued the time might have been better spent than simply watching repeated viewings of The Queen’s Gambit.
However, it could be debated whether any of that time was better spent than simply posting on social media. Last year, driven in no small part by the pandemic, Americans spent more than an average 1,300 hours on social media according to a new study from Uswitch. Facebook led the way, where Americans spent an average 58 minutes a day on the app – or 325 hours a year. However, the social network has been on the decline among younger users, who are increasingly gravitating towards apps including Instagram and TikTok – which allow them to be more creative and express themselves, the study’s authors noted.
Instagram was the second most used service, and it remained most popular among Gen-Z users, who spent almost 53 minutes per day, or 297 hours year; while Snapchat was also popular with the younger crowd, who racked up 50 minutes per day on the app or still 277 hours a year.
In addition to social media apps, the study found that members of Gen-Z spend a shocking nine hours per day in front of a screen.
There could be consequences to too much screen time, the study warned, and it “can have adverse health effects, from weight gain and poor sleep to increased susceptibility to certain diseases. The increase in screen time goes hand in hand with sedentary behavior, which in turn could lead to poorer physical health and wellbeing. In addition, the constant use of screens has a negative effect on sleep for children and young people, which is vital for good wellbeing and health.”
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The authors recommended that users take stock of how much time is spent engaging via social media.
“We are so subconsciously immersed in our digital lives that this research really highlights how much of our time is spent in front of a screen,” said Catherine Hiley, mobile expert at Uswitch.com. “With over half of our free time spent on gadgets, using your devices’ screen time notifications and settings can be a good way to help set boundaries and enjoy some time away doing other activities.”
However, the use of social media is actually only replacing other activities. In the past, younger Americans might have spent the day chatting on the phone or simply watching TV. So while it is important that exercise and “getting some fresh air” is still encouraged, it isn’t like the time away from social media would translate to studying a new language, learning to play chess or the violin, and few teens are likely to ever spend their summer reading Chaucer or Shakespeare.
“It is a sign that we are communicating in a different way,” suggested technology and telecommunications analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.
“Social media eats into other forms of communications like video consumption,” Entner added. “For a long time the buzz was that people were just texting and not talking anymore, which has only half right. We continued to talk the same as before and then texted a lot more than before. Our communications pattern has changed from a largely receiving mode to an interactive mode and social media is just the most visible part of it.”