Useless statistic of the day

Today twitter user @Uberfacts tweeted “In 2002, the average user spent 46 minutes on the Internet a day – In 2012, the average user spent 4 hours on the Internet everyday.”

It seems like an interesting statistic on the surface, especially given the implication — intentional or otherwise — that the Internet is slowly and nefariously taking over our lives, but if you look more closely, the stat doesn’t really make much sense. The Internet has changed so much in the intervening 10 years that the comparison is almost meaningless.

Take TV for example. People watched a lot of TV in 2002, something this statistic makes no mention of. In 2012, however, an enormous chunk of the movies and shows we watch come to us through Internet-based services like Netflix and Hulu. Essentially, we’re spending our time in the exact same way (passively watching moving images on a screen), but now we’re doing it “on the Internet.”

The same is true of other activities like talking on the telephone, doing some banking, reading a book or even taking a course. All of these activities, once considered completely separate from each other, can now be done “on the Internet.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying that our dependance on (addiction to?) the Internet isn’t potentially problematic, but I also think it’s silly the way it’s suddenly in vogue to complain about how our devices are “dehumanizing” us.

I’m reminded of a video that went viral a year or two ago in which a woman goes through her day, sadly noticing how everyone is connected to their devices instead of to each other. Two scenes in particular stood out to me. In one, she attends a birthday party in which all the attendees sing that birthday song while filming the action with their phones. In the other, she snuggles up to her partner in bed, only to have him take out his phone and start playing around with it.

I find phones as annoying as anyone, but these images are so goddamn manipulative it infuriates me. What if the people at the birthday party had been holding disposeable cameras instead of phones? Would it still be so dehumanizing?

In the bed scene, what if, instead of taking out his phone, her partner took out a book and started reading in bed? I would argue that this scenario would be no different. After all, he’s still ignoring his partner in favour of outside information that is entering his mind through his eyes. For all we know, he’s actually using his phone to read a book. Still, I’m willing to wager if you replaced the phone with an actual physical book, the scene would suddenly seem quaint and sweet rather than cold and alienating. Why is that?


David Warkentin is a Toronto-based writer whose work can be found on his Amazon author page. If you do twitter,

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