Has this ever happened to you? You log into social media for just one minute because you got a push message, to check the score of the game, or to find out the answer to a question. The next thing you know, it is 4 in the morning and you have to be at work in just a couple of hours. Where does the time go?
There has been a logical progression. Newspapers and magazines have worked hard to make eye-catching covers and headlines designed to get you to plunk down some money to find out the rest. This same lesson carried over to the internet. Instead of selling copies, now they are looking for money streams through ads and website affiliations.Some sites do this in legitimate ways, with tailored ads on other sites, unique services, or high-quality content. Others are simply clickbait type ads, some of which are disguised as news: “You’ll Never Guess What They Look Like Now: Number 4 is a Shocker!” “Do This 1 Thing to Lose Weight!” and other nonsense. Others trick you, especially when you’re trying to buy something – how many times have you been looking for an item and you hit the first thing that comes up in your search engine, only to find the store doesn’t have it at all and the site just parroted back your search terms?
But why? Why do sites want you to click on so many things and hang out online so much?
It’s simple economics: every time you visit a website, the server takes a little information from your computer: things like your IP address and internet service provider. Later, they can use that information to provide to ad companies. They can show how many unique visitors they have, and even where they are to help advertisers better target their audience. The more unique visitors they have, the more money they can make through ads and the more appealing they are to advertisers.
And how long you spend on a website helps, too. Sure, YouTube offers a pay service, but you can still watch most things without paying as long as you’ll tolerate watching an ad now and then. That’s why they group videos together by subject – “if you like that, try this!” and they automatically play. The more you’re on there, the more ads you’ll see. The same goes for social networking sites – the more time you spend on their site, clicking and scrolling, the more ads they can send you. They can even read search information sometimes to specifically target sites you buy from or items you’ve searched for. Websites are like casinos that way: you have no idea what time it is or how long you’ve spent there until it is too late and they’ve made all kinds of money off you.
So, what can you do about these time sucks? Short of not going online, not a lot. I have blue shift enabled on all of my screens, which gradually gets more tinted the later it gets. It is a good visual clue for me to look at my watch and see what time it is. I know other people who set their routers to turn the internet off at a certain time, so they aren’t tempted to answer that late work email or binge watch too many shows on Netflix at night. You can also set a timer when you are on the sites you know are your biggest time-sucks.
Remember, you have a life outside of your device screen. Don’t miss out on it because you’re falling down an internet rabbit hole.