At a conservative estimate, I’ve saved around 4 hours today. Yesterday, it was more like 7. The day before, I saved more than a week in a day – possibly the closest thing to time travel I’ll ever get.
My time-saving frame of reference is my usual followthehumming period of 28 years. Back then, according to my diary, I was developing photos through a complex process based on visits to a high street chemist. Then I was taking my printed photos and sending them to friends and family in small physical packages transported by a network of government-owned couriers.
When I wasn’t doing this, I was waiting around for friends with no notion of where they were, how long it would be before they arrived, or even whether I was in the right place.
Then of course there were the times I was trying to find my way somewhere, having forgotten to bring along my unfeasibly large and unfoldable map.
Given that we now do all this and more with a quick finger swipe, we’re surely saving oodles of time as a species…so the question is, what are we doing with it all?
Fortunately we do have one place that might just give us an idea. Google’s annual list of most popular searches is a decent place to get a sense of what the collective consciousness is thinking about when it isn’t watching cute cat videos on YouTube.
Here in the UK last year, we were most concerned with how to draw, kiss, crotchet, meditate, knit, twerk, squat, shuffle, revise and wallpaper – in that order. Our favourite cake recipe was chocolate and our preferred holiday destination was Paris. We were curious in particular about Banksy, Frenchy and Dappy, and what Ebola, ALS, fracking and love were.
Globally, we searched more for the departed Robin Williams than anyone else, and also wondered mightily about flappy bird, the ice bucket challenge, and Eurovision’s Conchita Wurst. And the world’s most searched YouTube video wasn’t actually a cat, but a slightly disturbing mutant giant spider dog.
So it turns out that we’re actually using any time we may have saved to do more of what we’ve always done – gossip, communicate, have fun, discover the world, work, get stuff done, learn new things, and find out what the hell is going on around here anyway.
It’s a case of more (and more) of the same.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. These fundamental interests and activities – and in particular the opportunity to gossip – are exactly what Yuval Noah Harari describes in his excellent history of humankind, as the winning cards in homo sapiens’ powerful evolutionary hand.