How Many Books Is Your Social Media Habit Replacing?

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The number is probably far higher than you think.

The newest calculator on the Internet can tell you a crucial and guilt-inducing fact – the number of books that you could have read in a year, if you hadn't been checking social media instead. Released by Omni Calculator, it works by entering the number of times you visit social media sites each day/hour/minute (you pick the unit of measurement) and how long you hang out on them. You're given the total time wasted, which is then divided up by the following facts:

The average book has 240 pages.
The average page has 250 words.
Reading speed is usually 200 words per minute (or 1.25 minutes per page).
Thus, you could read X number of books in a year/month/week (whatever you want to choose from the drop-down menu).

It is an alarming and oddly addictive thing to calculate. I fiddled with all sorts of numbers before figuring that I was probably missing out on 24 books a year. (That was before I started my month-long social media detox which, for the record, is going exceptionally well and, I suppose, means I am reading all the books.)

Then I decided to calculate based on the average American's social media use, which is said to be around 80 checks per day (as of 2017). I guessed about 1 minute spent per check, which might be generous, but even that equals a whopping 97 books per year. That's a whole lot of knowledge being neglected for the sake of Instagram feeds.

Obviously the calculator is more entertaining than useful, but I wouldn't be so quick to underestimate the alarmist effect of such gimmicks. Sometimes it just takes a small reminder of all the things that aren't being done, and all the experiences that are not being had, to deter one from picking up the phone.

The calculator is accompanied by a decent article on the effects of social media, how it's addictive, and why it's a good idea to limit it. It states that cutting at least 75 percent of one's social media time will have no negative side effects at all, nor reduce contact with close friends. It offers suggestions such as deleting apps, making phone calls instead of texting, and disabling notifications.

These are exactly the kinds of hacks that Cal Newport disapproves of. He's the author of Digital Minimalism, the book that inspired my spontaneous digital declutter, arguing that hacks aren't enough to counteract the highly addictive allure of social media. Cutting it out completely is necessary for a personal reset, at which point you adopt a 'philosophy of technology' to better govern your online habits.

Whether or not you agree with Newport, figuring out how many books you could've read last year is darn good incentive to put down the phone and pull a book off the shelf today. You might as well start with Digital Minimalism while you're at it.