Here’s what Gangnam Style’s YouTube breaker says about how we use social media

by Adedayo Ademuwagun

Last week YouTube announced that their view counter nearly packed up because of Gangnam Style. The guys at YouTube said they never thought it was possible for any video to surpass their count limit of 2.147 billion. But that was before Psy came to the party.

The video reached a mind-boggling 2.15 billion views this month and was going to crash the counter, but YouTube quickly upgraded their counter to a new limit of nine quintillion, or nine billion billions.

The writers at The Economist have used a brilliant perspective in this story to explain the opportunity cost of what just happened with Gangnam Style. They calculate that, with a length of 4.12 minutes multiplied by over two billion views, the world has spent over 16,000 years just watching Gangnam Style. That’s really astonishing to imagine, considering what mankind could have achieved if it spent 16,000 years doing one single productive thing instead of watching a fun video.

That’s exactly the point. Every single day, a lot of us spend hours on our smartphone watching videos, sharing photos or having a “yarn” with friends on social media without even realising the opportunity cost of what we’re doing.

Opportunity cost is simply what you would have gained if you were doing something other than what you’re doing now.

So let’s assume that Hauwa spends a total of five hours on BBM and others every day. In one month she’d have spent 155 hours, or more than six whole days just chatting and socialising. That’s more than two whole months in one year, just chatting and socialising.

In that period, if she wanted, she could have learned 36,500 new words, read the entire Bible 33 times, or learned make-up, baking and hundreds of other skills. Some people will never even achieve this in an entire lifetime.

But this is not just about opportunity cost. It’s about putting the phone down.

Many of us are like Amy in the movie God’s Not Dead when she’s at her doctor’s office for an appointment. She first apologises for being late as the doctor offers her a seat. Then she starts to press her phone while her doctor tries to get her attention.

“We’ve got your results back from the tests last week and…”

Her phone beeps and she tells the doctor to give her a moment to reply the message. Then it beeps again, and again.

Finally the doctor loses his patience and cuts in, “Amy, your results came back positive. You have cancer.”

Seriously, a lot of people all over the world find it difficult to just put their phone down. That’s why there are apps out there like Moment and BreakFree that help users develop some control and give them heads up when they’ve got to give their tablet a break. It’s like some people have the impression that their phone is a necessity, something they can’t live without.

Maybe that’s why UNICEF launched that campaign challenging people to put their phones and tablets down to help raise money for clean water, which is literally a necessity. So for every 10 minutes they went to the UNICEF website and put their phone on the table, Giorgio Armani donated money to UNICEF to help provide water to poor kids in developing countries. The project raised $1.6 billion.

Social media lets us catch up with the latest stuff and stay in touch with the people who are important to us. No doubt, social media is a blessing to us in many ways.

“I spend a lot of time on social media mainly to keep up with latest happenings,” says Nneka, who’s a journalist. “I don’t see it as a waste of time, because for me it’s about learning new things and staying informed. I haven’t even seen the Gangnam Style video. I don’t spend much time doing trivial stuff online.

“I’ve got a job, I’m married and I’m doing a postgraduate. So even though I spend time on social media, I study, do my job, spend time with my husband, and I’m getting on pretty well. So I’m doing okay.”

Yes, but maybe Nneka should really make out time to check out Gangnam Style. It’s really entertaining to watch.

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