Life is short. Even if you are lucky enough to make it to 90, you will have only lived for just over 1000 months:
Things get worse when we factor in time spent on things such as sleep, work, and errands. For an 18-year-old with a 90-year life expectancy, their remaining time on earth with look something like this:
When all is said and done, the 18-year-old is left with about 334 months, or roughly 28 years, of "free" time, represented by the white dots above. This is where life happens.
This is quality time with loved ones and adventures with friends; this is where they pursue their passions and tick the boxes on their bucket list.
Unless you are fortunate enough to love what you do for work, free time is what you live for. It's impossible to tell how much of it you have left, but it should be obvious that it is your most valuable resource. Money is renewable. Time is not.
The decisions you make about how you use this free time will largely determine the quality of your life, and how you use it implicitly represents what you value.
Pause for a second and ask yourself:
Where do you want your free time to go?
What do you want to do that you haven't done?
Who do you want to spend this time with?
I would be willing to wager that scrolling through social media, binge-watching Youtube, and playing Candy Crush didn't come to mind. Yet today, the average 18-year-old in the U.S. is on pace to spend over 90% of their remaining free time staring at a screen:
*Based on Common Sense Census, which found the average US teen is averaging 8 hours 39 mins of screen time per day (not including time spent using electronics for work or school)
*Assumes no overlap between screen time and other areas of life, such as sleep, eating, and *ahem* the bathroom
To put into perspective the opportunity cost of spending that much time on screens, here are just some of the things those 312 months could be used for:
Curious how your numbers compare?
Fill out the Project Reboot Screen Time Visualization to see how your daily tech use scales over a lifetime
Getting a good deal out of social media
While it is important to understand the opportunity cost of screen time, I am not advocating for you to throw your phone off a bridge. Rather, I encourage you to reframe your relationship with social media around two key notions:
1. You pay for social media with your time. These apps are free because they monetize your attention and are therefore incentivized to capture as much of your time as possible.
2. Your time is your most valuable resource. You have an unknown, finite amount left. How you spend it will determine the quality of your life and the legacy you leave behind.
To drive these points home, let's run a thought experiment. Imagine that instead of monetizing your time, services like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and Youtube all charged monthly subscription fees. How much would you pay for them?
How much would you pay for TikTok?
- $0 per month
- $1 - $20 month
- $21 - $50 per month
- > $50 per month
Now let's assume you value your free time at a rate of $20 per hour. If you spend 2 hours a day scrolling through TikTok, you are effectively paying $1,200 per month for the service.
When you do this type of analysis, it quickly becomes clear that many of us are drastically overpaying for social media. To get a good deal, you must ask yourself two questions:
What value are these services adding to my life?
How much of my time is that value worth?
Social media allows us to be connected, informed, and entertained 24/7. It's a tool that has the potential to foster relationships, introduce us to new ideas, and even spark social movements, but we must learn to use it in moderation.
Don't let yourself get to the age of 90 only to look back on your life and realize that by trying to avoid FOMO, you missed out on living. Your free time is your most valuable resource, don't give it away for free.