The time suck economy: Let’s start building value

Time is our most precious asset. Yet, we’re wasting far too much of it.

It’s called the time suck economy. And it’s available on a smartphone near you.

You can waste time these days in unlimited ways — online and offline. Let’s just focus online, and more specifically from your mobile device which you carry everywhere. You can play poker, read endless celebrity gossip, play Farmville, look at porn, play chess, browse Twitter or Facebook endlessly, or frequent a million other mind-numbing websites and apps.

It’s a waste of time. And it is sickening. My big problem with the time suck economy is that it rewards individuals and companies for building apps that provide very little utility.

Seth Godin says that entertainment is different than utility, noting that “media doesn’t just change what we focus on, it changes the culture it is part of.”

As I see it, there’s too much focus on entertainment these days, and not enough on utility.

Drew Meyers

I, for one, only use apps on my phone which solve specific needs. For example, finding a nearby restaurant; directions to a meeting; or electronic tickets to a concert. Aside from Twitter and Facebook, I don’t really entertain myself on my phone.

While there have certainly been interesting people and information I’ve come across via Twitter and Facebook — the efficiencies of those platforms are far from optimal.

By my count, about half of the time I spend on Facebook and Twitter is wasted. I’ll be the first to admit that I need to spend less time on the sites (and I have been recently). Facebook is going to come under some intense competitive pressure over the next couple years (See Why the downfall of Facebook is more possible than you think)

My takeaway is this. Don’t add fuel to the time suck economy.

Build something of real value. Think big.

Of course, you can spend your time working on whatever project you wish, but I’d urge you not to fall into that trap. After all, why make it easier for people to accomplish less in life?

I’m not naive. I realize the only real way to change the time suck economy is by decreasing the demand-side of the equation — a difficult proposition since it involves changing the mindset of millions. As it stands today, the demand for time-wasting crap is there, so someone will fill it.

What would happen if we all used our powers to truly help others lead better lives by enabling them to make BETTER, not worse, use of their time?

Or just follow the advice of Will Smith:

“If you’re not making someone else’s life better, you’re wasting your time.”

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Oh Hey World. Global nomad originating in Seattle. Ex-Zillow community builder. Entrepreneur. Microfinance advocate. Travel addict. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

  • David Longdon

    Did I just waste 2 minutes reading this instead of building value??

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      Apparently you did :)

      If we really want to get granular, pretty much all media/news is part of the time suck economy. Sure, there is some great information out there – but how much of it is truly actionable? What do I gain by watching the evening news or perusing CNN? Not much aside from being “in the know”, which is the reason I rarely do either one.

  • PrimalHex

    For over a decade now, I’ve watched technology turn us into eager children. I keep waiting for the next Shakespeare to come along and demonstrate what’s possible with the new medium of software, but all I keep seeing are cartoon birds, cat pictures and narcissistic self-indulgence. If the current output is an index to our level of intellectual progress and sophistication as a culture, it’s shameful. I’m still looking for the great miracle that everyone around me proclaims modern technology to be. Thank you for writing this article.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      There’s some great stuff out there. It’s just so unfortunate that it gets buried behind all the flashy crap in the time suck economy. Reminds me of the news…90% of news is negative & in-actionable even though there are so many people doing amazing things in the world worth highlighting. The problem is…the masses dictate the cycle by continuing to watch/consume crap. If they stopped watching the news until they started being positive…the news stations would be forced to change. But negativity brings ratings, so they keep doing it. It’s an endless cycle.

      Like I said in the article…people can spend their time working on whatever they want. If they choose to waste their talents on figuring out ways to waste people’s valuable time, that’s their prerogative. It’s just not mine.

  • http://twitter.com/puckyourself Joe McGrath

    Interesting post on the same website that touts the many great things of the pointless Cheezburger websites.

  • Russell

    Totally agree! Great points, but it probably doesn’t make you too many friends around here.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      Oh well. I’d rather live with the consequences of using my time for good and being honest with others.

  • http://twitter.com/dreeves david reeves

    Drew,

    Is it possible that your sense of utility and value differs from that of others? Why is finding a restaurant more valuable than seeing a funny cat picture I can talk about with friends?

    Also, might there be ways that entertaining one person might create value for someone else?

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      David-
      Yes, it is certainly possible (and probable) that others sense of utility and value differ than mine. I get that. Everyone needs some entertainment and can’t work nonstop, me included. I get that too.

      I’m not sure I understand your second question clearly. As an example – I’m seriously curious how playing angry birds for 10 hours can be “valuable” for anyone. Entertaining, yes, but valuable…no.

      My point is that too many people are spending too much time entertaining and not enough time creating utility. Here is a Seth Godin post I’d encourage everyone to read: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/12/utility-vs-entertainment.html

  • Kevin Stone O’Brien

    Good work building this discussion, Drew. Circumstances are variable; values are constant. Life is a Koolaid of dreams. The best flavors always stand out. Stir well.

  • http://www.nathanzeldes.com/ Nathan Zeldes

    The question comes to mind, are all people capable of creating value, or of consuming it in useful ways? It isn’t like absent smartphone everyone would be doing scientific research or reading Shakespeare; before the Internet we had television, and a vast number of people wasted the same hours passively watching soap operas and adding weight. At least playing angry birds makes for exercising some minor muscles…

    The issue you raise is crisper in the enterprise, where knowledge workers waste about 25% of their week consuming useless email and handling interruptions on their smartphones instead of doing useful work. The value equation there is clearer, although as a veteran of the battle to help companies eliminate this problem I can attest that it’s still missed by many managers.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      Many people will waste their time no matter what, no one is disputing that. My issue is all the very talented people who spend their lives building apps/websites that are centered around providing no real utility and only entertainment. People will figure out how to entertain themselves regardless of what’s available. I just wonder what the world would be like if all the talent currently focused on mind-numbing entertainment apps/sites were put to use building real solutions to massive problems rather than solving “how can i get people to spend 10 hours a month playing my game”.

  • http://SeattleHome.com Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

    Great read, Drew. Every person like you that creates a useful tool instead of the next version of Farmville is creating more options to change the direction of demand. I think I just resolved to never start using Pinterest.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      Awesome. I’m with you on that.

  • Jerry

    Entertainment adds the human factor to life. Yes, helping the big picture of life and the world should be focused on more, but everything can’t be built for utility. No matter how you look at it, everybody “wastes” time, some in different forms than others: face booking, celeb gossip, news, sports, drinking, going to a movie, even going to a restaraunt can be considered a waste of time to some. If it something that a person enjoys, then it does add value.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      I totally get that value is different for everyone, and agree everyone will waste time one way or another regardless of what is available. What I’m getting at is the question of “Is technology/product/startup X making the world a better place?” There are way too many people working on things where the answer to that question is “NO” (IMHO). They can do what they wish w/ their lives, but I’ve resigned to not spend my time on things whose sole goal is to consume people’s time.