Let’s talk about numbers

A few numbers in the world are finite. We only have 24 hours in a day. Assuming you live for 75 years that’s about 672.000 hours of life, including sleeping, eating and other necessities of existence.

This begs the natural question of how we are spending this precious time.

Let’s look at some numbers, but first a quick quote to set the scene.

“Technological progress has shifted scarcity for humanity. When we were foragers, food was scarce. During the agrarian age, it was land. Following the industrial revolution, capital became scarce. With digital technologies scarcity is shifting once more. We need to figure out how to live in a world in which the only scarcity is our attention”
— Albert Wenger, World After Capital

Here’s a few of the ways we spend this most scarce resource at our disposal.

Some big numbers:

  • Time spent on Facebook per day: 1.022.500.000 hours*
  • Time spent on Youtube per day: 346.500.000 hours*
  • Time spent on Netflix per day: 125.000.000 hours*

It comes to 10.458.000.000 hours a week, or 543.816.000.000 hours a year.

That’s an awful lot of our most scarce resource right there!

At this point I hear you think; “But people used to just watch TV instead” and that is entirely correct. Americans still watch 5 hours a day if you combine live, DVR and catchup. So, that just compounds the problem.

People much smarter than me also believe that our time is increasingly being hijacked by technology exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities.

And because of the attention economy, every product will only get more persuasive over time. Facebook must become more persuasive if it wants to compete with YouTube and survive. YouTube must become more persuasive if it wants to compete with Facebook.
— Tristan Harris

The real question however is when these platforms stop competing with each other and start competing with life itself? I personally think we crossed that line a while ago, but due to the gradual nature of the change it is hard to point our finger at the exact moment we all stepped over.

Some much smaller numbers in comparison:

  • Time it takes to build your own house: 900 hours
  • Time it takes to learn a new skill to a decent level: 20 hours
  • Time it takes to read Tuesday’s With Morrie: 2 hours
  • Time it takes to watch How to Achieve Your Childhood Dreams: 1.2 hours
  • Time it takes to complete a great cardio workout: 40 minutes
  • Time it takes to have sex with your partner: 8 minutes

Now, the aim of this article is most certainly not to reprimand you personally, tell you in a belittling voice to never watch a funny YouTube video again or immediately delete the Facebook or Instagram app on your phone (although I must admit I would be happy if that was the case).

This is not one of those “7 habits of highly productive people which will change your life” articles that actually doesn’t change your behaviour, eats a bit more of your life, and ultimately leaves you feeling worse about yourself.

I’m a classic procrastinator, always fighting the instant gratification monkey! Addiction tactics influence me every bit as much as anyone else.


But, what if we all somehow collectively managed to shift just 5% of the time we spend procrastinating on these platforms for one year, and instead invested it in learning new skills together?

That would amount to 27,190,080,000 new skills learned in just one year.

That’s an awful lot of learning.

A crazy amount of human potential unlocked.

And 1.35bn people experiencing a real sense of achievement.

Now I realize this is one big hairy goal, and admittedly I have no immediate path to realizing it. In fact all the indicators are pointing the wrong way.

So, feel free to go ahead and call me a naive optimist at this stage.

I promise I will take it as a compliment.

For me personally, the best medicine is to try to keep reminding myself of how I feel when I am ill and just want feel normal again. It creates urgency.

“When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
— Bonnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

What is your medicine?

Is there a cure in sight?

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*Small appendix for all you number geeks out there:

  • Facebook numbers are calculated using Q4 2016 earnings report on daily active users, combined with the stated 50 mins per day average usage.
  • YouTube numbers are calculated using the Q4 reported daily consumed videos, combined with the average 4.2 min video length on YouTube.
  • Netflix numbers are taken directly from their own Q4 earnings report.

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Thanks to Joe Edelman for inspiring this post.

If you work in tech I also urge you to check out Time Well Spent