Students in a study by Harvard’s Berkman Center Professor Reynol Junco came back with an average of 149 minutes. Almost two and a half hours a day! But that’s not the crazy part.
Junco suspected that the number was off because they usually are when you ask people to report on their own behavior. So he installed a tracking device (with permission) in the computers of his students then added up the time for them.
Self-reported time: 149 minutes.
Actual time spent of Facebook: 26 minutes.
Wow. How can people be off by that much?
One option is that the very fact that they were being monitored changed their behavior. If you knew you were being watched, wouldn’t you spend less time of Facebook?
But why over estimate in the first place? Wouldn’t you be more likely to downplay the importance of a social media site in your life? Junco says the opposite is true.
Students may have implicit theories about how they use technology that are likely based on messages received by the media and adults (i.e., “youth use Facebook a lot!”). This would lead them to give inflated estimates of the actual amount of time they spend on the site.
Another issue is simply our lack of ability to gauge time, especially when using the internet. Think about how you move around the web. A few seconds here, a few seconds there. A Twitter message comes in so you pop over to Twitter to reply, then stay to read a couple of Tweets even though you’re in the middle of a game on Facebook. If Facebook was open on a tab while you were on Twitter, does that count as time spent?
It’s hard to quantify time online because there are no boundaries. I can tell you how many hours I spent watching TV last night because I can count the number of shows, each show is one hour, so it’s simple. But I couldn’t begin to tell you how much time I spent checking and answering email because I do it in short spurts throughout the day. If I had to say, I’d probably over estimate because it feels like a lot of time, but if I collected up all the little bits and strung them together, it’s probably less around a half hour.
It could be that students overestimate their time because Facebook is everywhere. You’re here reading this article, but there’s a Facebook Like button on the side and a Facebook login option if you want to comment. So even though you’re not on Facebook, in a way, you are.
How much time do you spend on Facebook everyday? Now you can feel better about your answering knowing that it’s probably a lot less than you think.
[Thanks to The Atlantic for the tip]