What Are We Not Doing When We’re Online

Scott Walsten,  a senior researcher at the Tech Policy Institute, parsed through the American Time Use Survey and analyzed the Internet’s “crowding-out” effect — what things we do less of so we can spend more time online. His findings are published in a paper on opportunity cost of spending time online (i.e., what are we NOT doing with every minute we spend online not doing work?). From the abstract:

The Internet has radically transformed the way we live our lives. The net changes in consumer surplus and economic activity, however, are difficult to measure because some online activities, such as obtaining news, are new ways of doing old activities while new activities, like social media, have an opportunity cost in terms of activities crowded out. This paper uses data from the American Time Use Survey from 2003 – 2011 to estimate the crowdout effects of leisure time spent online. That data show that time spent online and the share of the population engaged in online activities has been increasing steadily. I find that, on the margin, each minute of online leisure time is correlated with 0.29 fewer minutes on all other types of leisure, with about half of that coming from time spent watching TV and video, 0.05 minutes from (offline) socializing, 0.04 minutes from relaxing and thinking, and the balance from time spent at parties, attending cultural events, and listening to the radio. Each minute of online leisure is also correlated with 0.27 fewer minutes working, 0.12 fewer minutes sleeping, 0.10 fewer minutes in travel time, 0.07 fewer minutes in household activities, and 0.06 fewer minutes in educational activities.

The Washington Post summarizes that for every 10 minutes people fool around online, they spend:

  • 2.9 minutes less on all other types of leisure
  • 2.7 fewer minutes working (or a more dramatic 3.75 minutes, for people in their 30s)
  • 1.2 fewer minutes on personal care, including sleep
  • 1 less minute travelling
  • 42 fewer seconds on household activities
  • 36 fewer seconds on educational activities

When you break out just the leisure category, people spend:

  • 32.4 fewer seconds on offline socializing
  • 24 fewer seconds of relaxing and thinking
  • 9.6 fewer seconds at parties
  • 6 fewer seconds at cultural events/institutions

What are you not doing when you’re spending time online?

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