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What Facebook teaches us about time

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY I don't spend as much time on Facebook as I used to. But in the early months after I discovered it in 2009, I was checking in several times a day. What are my high school friends up to? What did my college roommate eat for breakfast? Whose cute baby can I look at while I should be working?

Each foray over to Facebook didn't take much time. Let's say 5 minutes. But I was doing it 6-10 times a day. So that's 30-50 minutes.

This is not a small chunk of change. If you'd asked me to find 30-50 minutes per day to lift weights, or study a foreign language, or volunteer, I would have thought you were crazy. Yet somehow, when Facebook came into my life, I found several hours per week, as did many other people. The average user may be on 6-7 hours a month, but we all know people who post on every update. Sometimes about how busy they are!

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The point, as Facebook nears its IPO, is that how we use our time is highly malleable. You may think your life is scheduled to the hilt, but if your car broke down on the side of the road, you would find the time to sit there and wait for a tow truck.

I've pondered what I was doing with the hours per week that Facebook suddenly commandeered before I discovered the social network. Perhaps I responded to email more quickly. Maybe I spent more time reading random articles or posting responses in the forums that Facebook supplanted. I really have no idea. But it must not have been that important, or I wouldn't have ditched it so quickly for a shiny new mousetrap.

What Facebook can teach us about time is that how we spend it is largely a choice. We redeploy time as our priorities change. If we have big goals, the time is there to achieve them. You may think you don't have time to ponder your career or to exercise. But if you take a hard look at all your time -- even time spent on Facebook -- you might discover that you do.

How much time do you spend on Facebook?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ed Yourdon
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