Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 12, 201012:01 PM

Social Media Is A Big Waste Of Time

You know the drill, the minute something becomes popular, some report comes out making claims about how much money is being pulled out of the economy because we're wasting our time on it.

Social media is no different. In fact, it's not even social media as entirety. We've seen instances where Facebook has been accused of wasting millions of dollars on being a time suck. The same has happened with YouTube and Twitter (more on that here: Gigaom - News Flash: Your Employees are Wasting Time on the Internet). We're always quick to blame the technology and not the people. I always argue that those who are not wasting their time on YouTube (because a company has blocked it) have probably figured out something else to do to waste their time (hint: they're not happy and energized to be doing their jobs ... it's not YouTube).

Social media is a big-time time sucker.

That was the news last week in the AdWeek news item, Social Networking: A Waste of Time? (Oct. 7, 2010). "Here's a sign of social networking's growing presence in modern life: It has surpassed TV viewing as the preeminent waster of people's time," stated the news item. "At any rate, it tops the waste-of-time standings in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll released this week. Respondents were given a list of six activities and asked to pick the one they regard as 'your biggest waste of time.' A plurality (36 per cent) chose 'social networking,' putting it easily ahead of runner-up 'fantasy sports' (25 per cent) and third-place 'watching television' (23 per cent). Few votes went to 'shopping' (nine per cent), 'reading' (two per cent) or 'your job' (two per cent)."

Social media is only a waste of time if you're using it to waste your time.

It's not because it's a slight against online social networks that I'm upset (or because I base part of my business livelihood on the success of social media as a marketing channel), but we have to meet the people who lump "reading" and their "jobs" as their "biggest waste of time." Wasting your time should probably be defined as an activity that requires nothing proactive, while utilizing minimal effort and with even less of a valued outcome in terms of overall life benefit. But, if you look at social media like that, you're missing the point entirely.

Social media is the fabric that binds our culture together.

Maybe not our current, entire culture but the shift is happening in a very non-subtle way. Contrast the news above with this blog post last week from MediaPost's Engage - GenY titled, Social Network Disconnect, which looks at GenY (those born between 1982 and 2004). Prior to looking at the stats presented below, you should know that Gen Y is (according to the Blog post), "the first generation in U.S. history to exceed 100,000,000 members is typified as multi-cultural, multi-racial, multilingual, multimedia and multi-tasking. Most importantly, Gen Y is the first generation in human history to, as children, be more technologically advanced than their parents."

Are you ready to have your mind blown?...

"Their use of technology is pervasive and sophisticated. You can pretty much count on the totality of Gen Y to be online and connected. Research conducted by the Insights division of Ypulse in September 2010 94 percent of GenY to be on Facebook, spending 11.4 hours a week within its pearly blue gates. This connectivity is nearly ubiquitous, with more than three quarters (78 per cent) of high school and college students connecting to their preferred social network via their mobile phone. Mobile devices and the Facebook platform are the glue that keeps this generation connected. When Gen Y communicates with each other, their preferred tool is a text message (55 per cent state texting as the primary means of communicating with their friends), followed by Facebook (24 per cent). Voice-based communications (land line, VOIP and mobile voice calls) among Gen Y represents only 10 per cent of communications, IM is the primary communications tool for seven per cent and email is dominant among a meager one per cent of Gen Y when communicating peer to peer."

It's not just because it's cool to be on Facebook.

Regardless of what the platform is, there's something bigger brewing beneath the surface here. The massive speed of change and adoption of new media among this huge generation is changing our society (they're not just idly sitting by watching TV, flipping through magazines or playing video games). From whom they trust and rely on to how they perceive privacy and relationships. These youngish people are doing things in a more open and sharing environment (and, yes some of it is not in a positive way - look no further than the tragedy that took place at Rutgers University a few weeks back when a young person committed suicide after a video was posted on YouTube without their consent), and this is having current implications on how society evolves... and we haven't even begun to look at the long-term society impact of this change in terms of business, education, privacy, communications and connectivity. What we do know is that you can hardly dismiss this massive shift as a waste of time (unless all you're doing is watching YouTube videos of people falling off of treadmills - which, admittedly, never gets tiring).

Is this causing such a huge societal change that we can't even begin to imagine the implications, so we have decide to ignore it or pass it off as a time waster, or is the reality something much bigger that we - as the business leaders of today - must begin to grasp and embrace?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

By Mitch Joel


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