Too much entertainment

Here’s Matt Yglesias of Vox on The Weeds podcast, discussing the recent social media study I mentioned here:

The optimistic case is always ‘Well, it’s crowding out television’… But what you see in this study is that, while making people not use Facebook did crowd in extra television watching, it also crowded in extra socializing and extra exercising.

And:

You just put more stuff on the entertainment-options bus and this is what you get. It’s just kinda not great. To have so much of the innovation and progress… happening just specifically in the entertainment zone is maybe not actually great for peoples’ lives.

These are both really good points. I used to trot out the (important!) finding that internet users watched less television, usually sourcing it to Yochai Benkler’s book The Wealth of Networks which reviewed that evidence (p. 361).

But we’re past that. Social media isn’t just crowding out TV; it’s crowding out important stuff, too. As I wrote in my post What the Internet is Good For:

It may be that by the time we had email, we more or less had the big benefits we were going to gain from cheap communication.

Another theory would be that, whereas early internet communications were a substitute for TV but still a very different activity, much of today’s “communication” technologies like social media are more or less a TV equivalent. (In the language of economics, the internet has evolved to be a more-perfect substitute for TV.) In this view, we’re spending more and more time on media, much of it mindlessly entertaining ourselves watching videos and scrolling through photos…

The internet made communication and entertainment cheap, and put endless information at our fingertips. It seems likely that we’ve overdone it on cheap communication and entertainment, and underdone it on instant access to other forms of information.

The next phase of the internet needs to be less about entertainment and more about other things.

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