Counting the Hours I've Spent on the Internet

106,398 tabs closed.

Apr 29 2015, 3:00pm

In World of Warcraft, a game that I and a lot of other people somewhat regrettably played, if you type "/played" into the console it will tell you, no judgment, how much time you've logged in the game on your current character, in minutes, hours, days. There's no playtime counter to shame yourself with for being on the wider internet, but for a while now, I've wished there were.

I read around 12 books in 2014, and that number has been on the slow decline since I was a kid, like it has for everyone. Sometimes I tell myself this is OK, because I spend a fuck-ton of time reading the internet instead. For most of 2014 I was an editor at a tech news website, so my job was, to be fair, mostly sitting in front of a computer, writing, reading, doing research, and talking to sources and co-workers. And then, to relax, I read, mostly on the internet. I spend a lot of time here. But I wasn't sure how much time.

According to my research on myself—culling all my browsing histories from all my browsing apps, which I sadly never clear—I visited 106,398 web pages over the last year across three browsers, both mobile and desktop. Roughly 106,398 clicks, 106,398 tabs closed. That works out to just shy of 300 pages per day, on an average day, or just under 20 pages every hour I'm awake, or a new page every three minutes.

Only 31,697 of those tabs were opened in Safari, a figure that includes all of my mobile browsing (though I did use Safari as my main browser for a few weeks following Yosemite's release, since other browsers during that time tend to be janky and murder on your battery). That means my mobile browsing constituted only 10 to 15 percent of the total. The rest was a steady stream of clicks with a mouse, URLs typed with a keyboard.

If internet mastery were possible, I'd be 10x by now

For comparison's sake, I recall having logged 35 days, or 840 hours, in World of Warcraft over about four years. I played a newer game, Don't Starve, for 120 hours in the last year. Of the 5,824 hours I was awake last year, I was working nine hours a day, five days a week for 50 weeks, a total of 2,000 hours. Some, but not all, of it involved being on the internet.

Having only a log and timestamps of my browsing, but not attention, getting a time-on-internet figure involves some guesswork. If I estimate I looked at each page for 5 seconds, I only spent about 147 hours on the internet over an entire year—monks probably log more hours than that. At a minute per page, I would have spent 1,773 hours, or 73 days, or 10.5 weeks of my year, just looking at the internet. This estimation is maybe, slightly, too high, but if you consider all the time I have outside of work to browse, too, it's probably close.

Let's assume that a lot of the pages I opened were text-based, and many of them long-reads, such that they averaged about 200 words, a short article, per page. That's a 233-page book per day. I could have, instead of internet browsing, read the entire Harry Potter series 20 times last year, or War and Peace 38 times. OK, say it was 100 words a page; I read all of Harry Potter 10 times.

A $15 CPM is not totally crazy for a quality website, and let's pretend I spend most, if not all, if my time on quality websites. If each of my clicks is worth 1.5 cents, I made the internet $1,591 last year, or about $4 a day. If my average CPM was closer to the internet's average ($3-5) I didn't earn it more than $530, or $1.45 per day.

A lot of my browsing might have just been redirects (Gmail itself can register 5 separate entries every time you navigate to before it gets to your actual inbox) or endless pop-up ads, but between my browsers and app-specific browsers, like the one in Tweetbot where I am endlessly opening Twitter links, I think we can call it mostly even.

This also doesn't count time spent using applications, time spent pouring my feelings and gossip and asdfkljasldkf's into tiny Gchat windows, or time spent writing emails.

Of my lifetime's worth of 63 million web pages viewed (flat growth assumed) I don't know how much of that time is going to be truly wasted. Not wasted in the sense that we all have to waste some time or we go crazy (wasting time makes us more productive)(supposedly)(maybe)(who knows), but excessively wasted, reading an article about how food menus use psychology to trick you into spending more money, or spending an hour searching fruitlessly for a video of the original appearance of Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party. Considering that if you told me I could only visit a hundred, or even fifty, tabs a day, I could almost definitely still do my job, there's a lot of potential dead weight.

In the end, I only care a little to actually optimize myself any more than I already have; I love the internet. It's more like, having woken up, wanting to know how long I was out. If the 10,000-hour rule were real and if internet mastery were possible, I'd be 10x by now, but in the same way I'm a 10x eater or 10x breather; I'd have to be trying really hard to do something stupid in order to not be.