The Internet Robs the Young of Time

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A common assumption is that young Americans spend so much time on their smartphones, the Internet and social sites that they have lost traditional access to independently produced information and hampered their interests in the broader world. According to a new Gallup poll, people under 30 at least realized the problem, even though they apparently will do nothing about it. This raises concerns about whether these people have time to improve skills that will make them attractive workers as they reach the age at which they will need to support themselves and their families. In addition, they live in a world in which many skills based on strong education are falling behind the rest of the world. Knowledge about time wasted and actions to address it diverge, Gallup’s data indicates.

The new poll data show:

By their own admission, many young Americans, aged 18 to 29, say they spend too much time using the Internet (59%), their cell phones or smartphones (58%), and social media sites such as Facebook (48%).

The poll also shows that older American spend large amounts of time watching television, which is not a new revelation.

The irony of the results is that the well-educated young spend more time on email than their less-educated counterparts. Internet use among the well-educated drops sharply when the amount of time spent on social media is considered. And social media use is essentially participation in a small world based on communications with a few hundred or a few thousand friends. It is a world in which traditional education is devalued.

Policy makers already are concerned that young Americans are undereducated and underskilled compared to the rest of the world. There are only so many hours in a day. Many government officials and experts blame school systems and teachers for skill levels and education attainment that are lower than some nations in Asia and Europe. It might be better to consider how the young spend their time and why they are less likely to spend time in the classroom or studying.

Education policy cannot be any better than the desire for those who are undereducated to seek improvement. People who occupy their days with hours texting or exchanging information on Facebook are unlikely to see time in classrooms or labs, or reading things that would broaden their knowledge bases and skills.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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