“Free” is one of my favorite four-letter words. There’s almost no other more powerful marketing word. (Except perhaps “you” because people love to have people pay attention to them.)
Sadly, free isn’t free. Everything has a cost. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. It’s so very easy to be lured into doing someone else’s bidding by something free.
Much of the Internet is the embodiment of free
At no other time in our history on this planet has so much content, so much capacity for communication, and so many ways of self-expression been available to us, for so little cost. Just about everything is available on the Internet, and much of it for free.
A motivated person can learn just about anything from information on the Internet. Heck, that can be accomplished without ever leaving Wikipedia.
A motivated person can get just about any question answered either through a Google search, or by finding the right forum to ask in.
A motivated person can create something of value, put it on the Internet, and have it pay dividends to society long after she’s gone.
A great bargain, or an extremely high-cost mistake
However, free is not the same as without cost. Time spent on the Internet is time spent. The time is gone, never to return. The cost of free can be huge.
Have you ever watched a really worthless YouTube video somewhere, and thought — or even commented underneath — that “that’s 3 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”? Well, this applies to every website visit, every article, every video, every podcast. The time is spent on everything.
Whereas a motivated person spends time on the Internet wisely, others spend it foolishly. (Probably most people are somewhere in between.)
What’s deceiving about the Internet though is that (beyond the cost of Internet access) so much of the Internet is free. Literally endless entertainment of each and every flavor you enjoy, publicly or in secret, is available for the taking. Abundance of entertainment, to the fourth power. Evening after evening, week after week, year after year.
The entertainment is inexhaustible.
Unfortunately, we’re quite exhaustible. When our time is gone, it’s gone. We can’t go back and get some more. We can’t even buy more. We’re done.
A life spent on the pursuit of free entertainment is an extremely high-cost mistake. We over-consume free entertainment, and it ends up consuming us.
I certainly don’t claim to use my time on the Internet wisely all the time. At times, it pains me to say that I’ve used very little of my time on the Internet wisely.
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but that’s only because I can easily “turn on the Internet” as if I’m turning on the TV. Some websites don’t expect a thing of me and are very easy to consume. This is passive entertainment. Not at all like going to a website deliberately to learn something new, or to create something of lasting value.
Does your Internet time have a purpose?
I think that’s the key question to ask. Are you using the Internet to further your goals? If not, then it may be (a) your goals are unclear or non-existent, or (b) those goals aren’t really that important to you. If you’re using the Internet to unwind, do you continue to use the Internet after you’re unwound? Is it a habit that isn’t given much further thought?
Using the Internet purposefully and productively is the key to taking advantage of free rather than being taken advantage of by it.