Cybernaut 

Facebook a waste of time?

I’m not one of those people that checks their Facebook profile daily, and generally my visits are limited to sending birthday messages, checking for updates and messages, scribbling on a few walls, and rejecting invites to use the Zombie application — I get it, you bite people and your Zombie gets a new outfit. It takes five minutes, tops.

However, it seems that not everybody has that kind of self-control. Last week an Internet filtering company that tracks online traffic suggested that Facebook may be costing Australian businesses about $5 billion a year in terms of lost productivity.

Considering that Canadians are ranked second in per capita in Facebook use to England — Toronto was the number one region until bumped by London — it’s safe to say that lost productivity in the Great White North is likely well over $5 billion.

Apparently the situation has gotten so bad that many of my friends — many of them public servants — can no longer access Facebook from work computers.

While I can sympathize with those organizations, I believe they are overreacting.

For one thing, Canada’s Gross Domestic Product is about $1.2 trillion a year. That means a $5 billion loss in productivity is equal to about 0.4 per cent of our output — far less than we lose to sick days, employee turnover, and the kind of poor management practices made famous by the movie Office Space.

For another, I don’t think these kinds of studies take into account other variables. Most people I know don’t take 15-minute coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon, or a full hour for lunch. Most people work longer hours than nine to five, and give up the occasional weekend and holiday.

These studies also overlook the fact that most people who have access to computers and the Internet at work are far more productive than they would have been even 10 years ago thanks to e-mail, dynamic websites, e-commerce, PDF, collaborative software, and other technologies. Computers are also a lot faster, which means employees spend less time waiting for programs to open and projects to save.

Lastly, you have to take into account the fact that Facebook is still relatively new. When I first signed up for Facebook I would check my profile several times a day. Now that I have my Friends list locked in, the novelty has worn off. Over time people will use Facebook less and less.

Instead of banning Facebook, maybe company policy should be to allow the use of Facebook, Hotmail, MySpace, and other chronic time wasters during breaks and lunches. People will always make personal calls at work, and do all the things you can only really do from nine to five on weekdays — like banking, booking travel, making doctor’s appointments, dealing with government agencies, and so on. Why is using Facebook any worse?

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