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Does Technology Help or Hinder Your Free Time?

Back in 2021, the New Yorker writer and technology guru Cal Newport released the book A World without Email. It was something of a sensation, following up on Newport’s theories of digital minimalism. Effectively, Newport believes that technology – too much technology – is ruining our lives. Not just our social lives but our work lives too. If you have ever felt guilty about endless scrolling on social media or been upset that you can’t escape the office when you leave for the day, you’ll probably agree he has a point. 

Newport’s works have come about in an era when governments, including the Australian government, and international agencies are increasingly trying to understand how we spend our time and why we do certain things. The Australian Bureau of Statistics releases regular reports on these things, finding differences between how men and women spend their 24 allotted hours each day. The role of technology is inevitably looming larger and larger in those studies. The average Aussie, for example, now spends around 5.5 hours per day looking at their phone, which would obviously not have been the case a couple of decades ago. 

Most of us agree that having more free time is a good thing, of course. And some are certain that technology can help. Others assert that technology eats into our free time. If you are reading work emails while watching Netflix at home, for instance, can you really say that is free time? It’s also one of the reasons why free time is difficult to measure; the boundaries between work and social time are blurring, which is one of the issues that Newport hints at in his book. 

Traders save time with robot trading 

Of course, we can point to simple examples of how technology can save time. For instance, consider trading and investing. The typical online trader will no longer be required to slave over the charts hitting buy and sell buttons. They may use tools like robot trading, sometimes known as auto trading or automated trading, which allows them to execute strategies or copy other traders without any human input. This time-saving exercise may be augmented in the future by AI tools, which will inevitably enter the trading arena.

Back in late 2023, The Conversation produced an article that claimed technology was eating into your free time in ways you did not realise. It argued that, yes, technology frees up our time, but that time is spent doing more and more things. It might seem like a paradox, but the argument was that we filled up previously empty time – lying in bed, waiting for a bus – with screen time. 

The argument goes a little further: Online banking, for example, seems like a time saver – when was the last time you walked into a bank? Yet, you are arguably interacting with your bank more times than usual. Studies vary, but some claim that at least a third of us log in to check our bank balances daily. You certainly would not have gone to the bank every day in the pre-mobile phone era. Now, ostensibly, you probably still save time, but there is still that daily interaction with your bank, which you would have previously seen as unnecessary. 

The logic thus flows to the fact that time saved by technology is replaced by more technology, usually screen time. That’s all well and good if you consider screentime useful and rewarding, but many of us do not. We have a vague sense of guilt for time spent mindlessly scrolling Facebook and Instagram. What’s more, many of us have a deep-rooted sense that ‘real’ leisure time is more valuable than digital time. If you take your kids to the park, for instance, you’ll feel that it was a more worthwhile experience than sitting with them and playing with an iPad. 

Does Technology Help or Hinder Your Free Time?

How Aussies spend their time 

We mentioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier, and its most recent study of “time” (TUS: Time Use Survey) was produced in October 2022. The next edition is supposed to be released presently (April 2024). It will, of course, be interesting to compare both as it will inevitably show differences between COVID-19 era free time and how we act in a post-pandemic world. 

But each study is valuable not just in how we use our free time, but in how we perceive free time. It’s also interesting to see how Australians compare to the global average. This study published by ABC News, for instance, showed that New Zealanders sleep more on average than Aussies. But it also showed that those using wearable technology slept less than the average person globally. 

At a push, most of us would say that we would like to use technology less. We all feel guilty when we are glued to a screen. There are simple examples of how tech can save us time, but it is what we do with that saved time that leads us to feel guilty or stressed or, ironically, that we have not got enough time. 

Gold Coast Magazine
Gold Coast Magazine

Our in-house team and affiliates bringing you the latest in Culture, Lifestyle and Entertainment from around the globe and the great stories of the Gold Coast

Does Technology Help or Hinder Your Free Time?

Back in 2021, the New Yorker writer and technology guru Cal Newport released the book A World without Email. It was something of a sensation, following up on Newport’s theories of digital minimalism. Effectively, Newport believes that technology – too much technology – is ruining our lives. Not just our social lives but our work lives too. If you have ever felt guilty about endless scrolling on social media or been upset that you can’t escape the office when you leave for the day, you’ll probably agree he has a point. 

Newport’s works have come about in an era when governments, including the Australian government, and international agencies are increasingly trying to understand how we spend our time and why we do certain things. The Australian Bureau of Statistics releases regular reports on these things, finding differences between how men and women spend their 24 allotted hours each day. The role of technology is inevitably looming larger and larger in those studies. The average Aussie, for example, now spends around 5.5 hours per day looking at their phone, which would obviously not have been the case a couple of decades ago. 

Most of us agree that having more free time is a good thing, of course. And some are certain that technology can help. Others assert that technology eats into our free time. If you are reading work emails while watching Netflix at home, for instance, can you really say that is free time? It’s also one of the reasons why free time is difficult to measure; the boundaries between work and social time are blurring, which is one of the issues that Newport hints at in his book. 

Traders save time with robot trading 

Of course, we can point to simple examples of how technology can save time. For instance, consider trading and investing. The typical online trader will no longer be required to slave over the charts hitting buy and sell buttons. They may use tools like robot trading, sometimes known as auto trading or automated trading, which allows them to execute strategies or copy other traders without any human input. This time-saving exercise may be augmented in the future by AI tools, which will inevitably enter the trading arena.

Back in late 2023, The Conversation produced an article that claimed technology was eating into your free time in ways you did not realise. It argued that, yes, technology frees up our time, but that time is spent doing more and more things. It might seem like a paradox, but the argument was that we filled up previously empty time – lying in bed, waiting for a bus – with screen time. 

The argument goes a little further: Online banking, for example, seems like a time saver – when was the last time you walked into a bank? Yet, you are arguably interacting with your bank more times than usual. Studies vary, but some claim that at least a third of us log in to check our bank balances daily. You certainly would not have gone to the bank every day in the pre-mobile phone era. Now, ostensibly, you probably still save time, but there is still that daily interaction with your bank, which you would have previously seen as unnecessary. 

The logic thus flows to the fact that time saved by technology is replaced by more technology, usually screen time. That’s all well and good if you consider screentime useful and rewarding, but many of us do not. We have a vague sense of guilt for time spent mindlessly scrolling Facebook and Instagram. What’s more, many of us have a deep-rooted sense that ‘real’ leisure time is more valuable than digital time. If you take your kids to the park, for instance, you’ll feel that it was a more worthwhile experience than sitting with them and playing with an iPad. 

Does Technology Help or Hinder Your Free Time?

How Aussies spend their time 

We mentioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier, and its most recent study of “time” (TUS: Time Use Survey) was produced in October 2022. The next edition is supposed to be released presently (April 2024). It will, of course, be interesting to compare both as it will inevitably show differences between COVID-19 era free time and how we act in a post-pandemic world. 

But each study is valuable not just in how we use our free time, but in how we perceive free time. It’s also interesting to see how Australians compare to the global average. This study published by ABC News, for instance, showed that New Zealanders sleep more on average than Aussies. But it also showed that those using wearable technology slept less than the average person globally. 

At a push, most of us would say that we would like to use technology less. We all feel guilty when we are glued to a screen. There are simple examples of how tech can save us time, but it is what we do with that saved time that leads us to feel guilty or stressed or, ironically, that we have not got enough time. 

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Gold Coast Magazine

Gold Coast Magazine

Our in-house team and affiliates bringing you the latest in Culture, Lifestyle and Entertainment from around the globe and the great stories of the Gold Coast