This exercise in self-awareness of our digital lives was informative and alarming. I’d like to comment on why, how much, and how I consumed media this past week, and what can be learned from this reflection.
Following Erhardt’s lead, I used RescueTime to collection data on my computer usage patterns. This was based on the assumption that, since my days are marked by staring at a monitor, my computer can tell me about my media footprint. That’s not the case, as we’ll see. A summary histogram of the six days since Thursday 2/6 is below, with applications/tabs on the X axis and hours spent on the Y axis:
Localhost:3000 is a development URL, so time in that category + sublime text 2 + iTerm are together the time I spend writing code. The second and eighth categories sum to the time I spend playing the video game League of Legends, which is scary (bothersome question: where do the rest of the 168 – x hours in a week go???). A list of the twenty categories in which I spent over thirty minutes is below:
For completeness, here is a stacked bar chart with days on the X axis and colors signifying different categories. We can see that, while my computer time varies, the distribution of time is somewhat stable.
From this tool, I supposedly spent little time on e-mail. That’s totally not true. I e-mail mostly on my phone and iPad, which is lost in this analysis. Furthermore, I would like to know not how much time I spent on an activity, but how many times I checked it. For example, I know that the little time I spend on the computer checking e-mail is likely due to habitual inbox checking rather than composing messages.
Speaking of my phone, RescueTIme does not capture the hours of pre-sleep phone Redditing costing half an hour a day and probably a substantial chunk of well-being.
But do I really spend no time reading articles or books? Here’s the moral of the rant: most important pieces of media I’ve consumed — those that enriched my understanding or changed a perspective — were not on the computer.
Three were by print: the papers “Visualization and Cognition” by Bruno Latour and “Modeling games in the Newtonian World” by David Hestenes (both via Bret Victor’s 60 over 60 list), and chapters 3-12 of Hobbe’s Leviathan (pages 20-90 in my copy). My print reading was six hours spread over Saturday and Sunday.
In contrast, I listened to the audiobook version of The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker (paired with Hobbes and recommended by my advisor Cesar Hidalgo) during my walks to and from the Media Lab. That’s 30 minutes every day, and summed to around three hours. Similarly, I read On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins on my kindle for about 15 minutes (chapters 5-9) before diving into compulsive pre-sleep Reddit-ing.
But what about news? Sadly I realized that most of my knowledge of current events is through word-of-mouth or Facebook statuses. Very little is through reading extended pieces offering thoughtful analyses, which is alarming.
If I were to perform this experiment again, I would do more comprehensive and rigorous accounting of media consumption on all platforms. I would like to understand what types of news I do read and should read, and also how much time I spend on one device versus another.