You most likely spend more time online than sleeping. People spend an average of 2 hours and 53 minutes on social media, 4 hours and 35 minutes watching video or television and 2 hours and 15 minutes browsing the internet. Adults are spending 8 hours a day consuming media — online and offline.
300 hours of worth of video are uploaded to Youtube every minute. Facebook is looking to invest in original television content this year. If you were to estimate that there is 100,000 hours worth of content on Netflix (say 50,000 shows at 2 hours each), it would take you 11 and a half years to watch them all (and that includes no sleep!). With Netflix eyeing 700 original series in 2018, there is going to be no let up in the high quality content available to consumers.
Content is infinite. But there is one thing that does stand in your way: a shortage of life. There are still 24 hours in a day. In order to survive, people still need to feed themselves, make money, find love, socialise, maintain basic personal hygiene and sleep. Some even have the responsibility of raising kids.
But even these elements are beginning to coalesce on a screen. It’s easier to maintain friendships on a screen by liking a friend’s photo, swiping through dozens of attractive photos on an app or babysitting with an iPad. There is a tech solution for everything. Speed everything up, do more, feel busy, accomplish a thousand tiny tasks a day. Have the illusion that you’re being productive, while feeling guilty about not being productive enough (because there is always always more to do and more to consume).
And so we need to squeeze more things into the few moments we have: check the news while watching Netflix. Check our Instagram while queuing for coffee. Spend every spare moment (when the itch begins to burn) to check our notifications, stuff ourselves with images, micro-news, entertainment, take photos and publish posts on social media.
To make things worse, our work lives bleed into our personal lives, so we have to check our work emails on the train, just before we go to bed, just in case. We have to nurture a ‘personal brand’ on social media platforms to show our proactivity to current and future employers. We no longer leave our work at the office, it comes with us everywhere — on our commute home, in bed, while meeting up with friends.
As a result of there being more things to consume, to burn through, to keep up with, to not miss out on, to squeeze more into the few moments of our inconveniently time-bound lives, we are compelled to do more things at once.
We scroll through Facebook while watching Netflix. We watch another episode of a television series instead of going to bed. We check our email between waking up and brushing our teeth. We scroll through the news while eating breakfast. Any time wasted, unused, feels uncomfortable, horrible.
According to neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin:
“the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance. Among other things, repeated task switching leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour.”
The rhythms we’re living at, for work and leisure, make us feel more stressed and out of control. So we need more comfort. And our default way of comforting ourselves is by checking our phones, scrolling through more beauty on Instagram, watching more Netflix.
Our impulse-control has been eroded because we’ve “depleted the nutrients in our brain”, so we give into our compulsions to check our notifications, even though we know they’re going to be irrelevant anyway.
No wonder we’re exhausted. No wonder we’re stressed. It’s because we’re all headed towards information burnout, and are less capable than ever of fighting it, because everyone else is too.