Eckhart Tolle, the German-born writer and spiritual teacher, implores us to “realize deeply that the present moment is all you have.” Like many simple proclamations, this seems obvious and becomes more meaningful the more you think about it. Because there’s an excellent chance that, at any given moment, you are either noodling around on a phone or tablet, or you are asleep.
Over the last several decades, media and technology have exerted a creeping growth of influence in our lives, eating up more and more of our time. The fact that we even have time for all this stuff is a good thing; technologized society means we no longer have to spend months of the year chopping wood or planting rice just so our families don’t freeze or starve.
But it also affords us an incredible opportunity to do something creative…an opportunity that nearly all of us are squandering while frowning at a tiny screen. Don’t believe me? Check out these incredible statistics.
The average teenager spends nine hours a day on social media
It seems unbelievable, but there it is. That’s more time than they spend with family or friends, in school, or even sleeping. In fact, the nine-hour benchmark strongly suggests that social media is replacing sleep in teenagers. Pull on that root, and you’ll start seeing an interconnection with other problems. Teens are doing homework, going to school, and socializing while multitasking with phones and tablets, leaving them only partially engaged with both activities.
They’re also staying up late Facebooking and texting (two verbs that never existed until a few years ago and are now dominant activities in our lives). How much time do you spend? And is your phone a constant, buzzing distraction during rehearsals and writing sessions? Is it still in your pocket when you’re onstage? Could it be ruining your concentration and forcing you to make less inspired music?
Twenty-eight percent of online time is spent on social media
That figure goes up even more when we include “micro-blogging,” a specialized category of online action that includes Twitter posts and the like. This explains a lot: why so little work gets done in an office, why people make so many mistakes when typing, and why your time spent promoting your work takes longer and is less productive than it should be.
While simply posting a link to your new video, you’re bombarded with wedding photos, invitations to try some new coffee flavor from Facebook friends who have been hacked, and friend requests from robots. For musicians, social media are a necessary tool to get work out into the world… if we can fight our way through all the distractions and just get it done.
The average American watches five hours of TV per day
So we get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, and then watch television until we pass out. That’s essentially what this statistic means. That’s 7:00 p.m. until midnight, which leaves you with about seven hours of sleep if you have to work at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. Fear the Walking Dead is a pretty amazing show, but the quality of entertainment out there drops pretty steeply after you’ve watched a few of the most inspired series.
Besides, it’s not like these shows have a million hours of footage to watch; a few days of bingeing and you’ve seen every episode. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way and have appointment viewing for an hour a week, freeing up the rest of your life.
Do you strum a guitar while you watch TV? Ever write any songs that way? What would happen if you hung a nice scarf over the screen, put a potted plant on top, and only turned it on for the Super Bowl, like your auntie on Long Island did back in the day? Would you miss TV… or would you make more art?
Most of us spend just under an hour a day driving to and from work
The average commute for Americans is 26 minutes each way, or 52 minutes a day, total. Round that up to an hour to include walking out to your car, buckling in, and then walking from the car to your job. Many have it worse: 17 percent of us drive at least 45 minutes each way.
All of these numbers are generally increasing due to things like urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and accidents caused by texting and driving. It’s pretty difficult, and terribly dangerous, to try to compose music while you’re behind the wheel, but at least you can throw some of your mixes on a CD, and listen to them on the way in.
What choices are you making?
Should we banish all these devices and go dark, like North Korea? Probably not, or at least not permanently. Humans, especially musicians, have come to rely upon our technology, and the benefits it delivers are amazing: communication across the planet, with no waiting. Cheap digital production and mastering for our work. Shooting high-definition music videos on a phone in our living rooms. But if you add up all that social media time, commuting time and TV time, you get the entire day.
Do emails and texts need to answered within five minutes? Is your instrument getting dusty because you rarely play it? Are you no longer limber enough for some of your dynamic stage moves because you spend the entire day sitting down? Maybe it’s time to put some of the gadgets in a compartment and make time for the rest of your life. Face-to-face interactions. A good night’s sleep. And more music. Lots more music.
Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.