After tracking my computer usage for 6 days, I was interested in three questions:
- How often do I use my computer for consuming, and how often do I use it for producing?
- Which are the websites I consume from the most?
- By studying the types of media I consume, what can I learn about myself?
Tracking all my media usage was not as difficult as it may have been for others in the class. I don’t use a smartphone, so I have no mobile consumption (beyond phone calls!) I occasionally read print sources, such as The Tech, but that contributed to fewer than 30 minutes this past week. Almost all of my media consumption is done through my computer, which I’ve been tracking with an application called Timing.
To answer the first question, I reviewed all the time I spent on my laptop and divided it into two broad buckets: productivity and media usage. This was more of an art than a science. I thought of productivity as any application or website in which I was actively producing something (e.g. writing something in LaTeX, composing emails, reading a pset on the computer while solving it on paper, buying stocks, etc.)
These tasks served as a nice benchmark for the thing I was really interested in: my media usage. I defined this category as anything that wasn’t “productive” as defined above, i.e. consisted almost entirely of consumption. This included reading news or blogs, browsing Facebook, or even reading other posts on this website!
Granted, these categories were separated by a fuzzy boundary at best. Some things like email were hard to classify: when was I consuming emails and newsletters vs. when was I preparing an email? Furthermore, Timing had trouble knowing when I was actively viewing something on my computer, so all the data should be treated as having huge error bars. (Times are probably underestimated.)
I believe the results still yield interesting results, however:
My media consumption is (thankfully) consistently lower than my productive uses of the computer. It is still considerably large, however. What surprised me was that I wasn’t spending a lot of time on any single website, but rather that I was spending a little time on many websites, which added up to significant periods of time in “consumption mode.” (See the chart below for more context.) Consumption in the age of the Internet is incredibly distributed.
My overall usage of the computer was lower on the weekend as expected (see Feb. 18, a Saturday). However, the weekend is also when the highest percentage of my computer time is spent on media consumption.
The chart below sheds light on my second question:
Google Hangouts, which I included in media consumption (although that could be debated), took up 149 minutes because of several videochats I had this past week. (One of these was a conversation with other Americans across the country discussing the recent political events.)
As a subscriber on the NYTimes, I’m happy to see it make it into my top 3, and the time I spent on it is about what I’d expect.
To answer the third and final question, however, requires a more aggregated analysis:
This chart yields the most value for me.
Social websites like Facebook and Twitter are having a large impact on how I see the world, even if I don’t go there for traditional news. That’s because they make up over half the time I spend consuming media on the computer. Just by the nature of scrolling through their newsfeeds and adhering to their algorithms, I am being shaped by them.
I don’t read the mainstream media (like NYTimes, Washington Post, and WSJ) as much as I would expect. When I think about where my opinions form and where I find the facts that I reference in conversation, they usually stem from these mainstream sources. However, given that only a fifth of my media consumption comes from there, I must be weighting these sources substantially higher in my head because of the perceived credibility that comes with them.
I was happy to see that new forms of journalism (like BuzzFeed and MuckRock) are the next largest category. These are sources that can provide alternative perspectives and in new forms. I intentionally try to seek them out, and so it was reassuring to see that I’ve been somewhat successful in keeping up with it.
To end on a fun note, here are some fascinating tidbits that I picked out from my week’s worth of data:
- The longest time I spent on a Wikipedia page at one time was 7 minutes. Article: “Gas constant“
- The news websites that didn’t make it into the charts above (because I visited them for under 3 minutes) included CBS Sports, NYPost, The Independent, The Verge, Huffington Post, Fox News, and The Crimson.
- I like to visit BuzzFeed occasionally because they have some great original reporting. However, I still don’t spend as much time reading them as I would like! See below: