The Washington Post

More time spent consuming media? Of course — the Internet is better now

Lost time? Marcel Proust spent an entire six- (or seven, depending on how you count) book series hunting for it — like Harry Potter, but instead of magic and Lord Voldemort, with madeleines and the looming concern that Albertine might be unfaithful. Other writers have tried with equal unsuccess to turn up their misplaced time.

Amateurs! I know where mine is.

I spend it indulging the latest, hippest, most disturbing addiction.

Miley Cyrus and Charlie Sheen shouldn’t be allowed near it.

Students with the addiction tried spending a day clean. “It felt like I was being tortured,” one student wrote. “I began going crazy,” noted another.

By now I’m sure you are rolling your eyes and saying, “It’s the Internet,” and, of course, you are right.

According to a survey conducted by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, Americans are spending 20 percent more time consuming media such as radio, television and the Internet than they did a decade ago — going from a daily average of 6 hours and 50 minutes to an average of 8 hours 11 minutes.

Practically an hour and a half? Of course! That’s the hour I spend reloading the page to see if I’ve gone viral yet.

But overall, much of this is due to the increasing ubiquity of smartphones. They’ve been described as our era’s “swiss army knife and security blanket.” They’re more than that. Take my smartphone and — bang! All redeemable personality traits melt away. I snarl at passersby. I lose my sense of direction. After setting my watch by the sun, I wind up in strange neighborhoods at three in the morning and accidentally break into strangers’ homes, mistaking them for hip eateries. Direction? Vocabulary? Common sense? Why be smart when you have a smartphone?

In fact, when you think of it this way, I’m amazed we don’t spend longer with media. After all, a smartphone is like an infinitely patient, infinitely skillful friend to get you out of messes, a pocket Jeeves. No wonder without them we feel like someone amputated our sixth senses. “I can’t sense the time and temperature!” we yelp. “I don’t know the meaning of the word ‘tergiversate’!” It’s like being Tony Stark — yank out our magical glowing device, and we’re suddenly incapable of doing anything. But unlike Tony, without our phones, we couldn’t build anything in a cave.

But additionally, the Internet is, well, better now. TV and radio have remained at about the same level. But the online landscape 10 years ago is almost unrecognizable. In 2001, there was no Facebook. There most certainly was no Twitter. There wasn’t even MySpace! All you could do was sit in the AOL Reference chatrooms and talk about who would win a mud-wrestling bout between Civil War leaders and Christina Aguilera. Sure, they had fanfiction and All Your Base Are Belong to Us and Evil Bert. But we have everything else. Admittedly that includes Rebecca Black, but you’ve got to take the lumps with the good.

Now, eight hours is barely enough.

I certainly don’t want that extra hour back!

I don’t know what I used to do with that time, but it can’t have been worth it. Reading, sleeping, talking to friends? So 2001.

I’m glad I never had to spend time in a world where there was no way to tell everyone what I was thinking at all times.

William Blake once said something about seeing a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, “Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”

Forget flowers and sand! They’d damage my BlackBerry. I’ve got all the eternity I need right here at my fingertips.

And I need a fix. It’s been almost 20 minutes. Maybe I’m viral now. Maybe I should check.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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