Our Online Habits---Survey Results

Our Online Habits As I work on my next book (working title Spirituality in the Smartphone Age), I've gotten curious about the online/social media habits of different Enneagram types, and put together a survey to that effect. (Survey is now closed.)

The Enneagram stuff won't be in the book---I'm thinking a free PDF in advance of the book---but here are some preliminary findings.

(Today's post is general and will not delve into the Enneagram at all, but if you want to learn more about what it and figure out your type, here is a place to begin.)


  • This was not a scientific study. I did not apply any statistical jiujitsu to this work, because I have none. For example, although Enneagram 6s supposedly make up half the world's population, they comprised the smallest number of respondents. That's going to skew things. Nothing to be done about that.
  • For this reason, although I will be making some guesses and drawing some conclusions, they should all be taken with a grain of salt. My guesses are based on the data I collected, nothing more. So if I report that Facebook is the most popular social media site, you should hear an unspoken "among respondents" after that claim. (Though that's a bad example because Facebook IS the most popular social media site by most metrics.)


General Online Habits: 50% of respondents report spending 1-3 hours a day online, whether engaged in social media or reading and writing blogs or other sites. 28% spend 3-5 hours online. 15% spend more than 5 hours per day.

Reasons for Using Social Media: People could check multiple options here. The top responses by far were "my friends and family are there" and "it's entertaining/informative"; each commanding almost 70%.

"A sense of habit" was at the bottom of the list, but it was still chosen by more than a third of respondents. That seems significant to me. Habits aren't necessarily bad---brushing one's teeth twice a day would poll pretty high, eh? But I talk to more and more folks who find it hard to unplug from online activities, and who find that fact concerning.

Preferred/Favorite Social Media Sites: Upon reflection, I essentially threw these questions out as useless. Facebook and Twitter were the big winners, which seems plausible, but people were coming to the survey from those sites, so that's going to skew the result. I did note that reading and writing blogs performed very favorably---better than Twitter, actually---and Pinterest was the most beloved site among what I'd call second-tier sites such as Goodreads, Google+ or Instagram. (I know that Instagram and Tumblr are big among millenials. That's another caveat to my survey, which was advertised through my friends and friends-of-friends: I'm sure it skewed older.)

Engagement with Social Media: These questions had to do with how people use social media and other sites.

Reading v. posting: A clear majority of people felt they read and posted in a more or less balanced way. The second most popular response, with 42%, was "I mainly read and only occasionally post or comment." So the vast majority of us are actively engaging, as opposed to lurking, or posting without reading others' posts (1% each). This is a question where we saw interesting variation among the different Enneagram types. That'll be in my next post.

Content: As for what people post, a majority selected "I carefully consider what I post, thinking about how I portray myself on social media" (53%).

Only a third of respondents chose "I post what I'm thinking or feeling. I value authenticity and want my online and 'real-life' personas to be congruent." This was followed closely by "I mainly post informational stuff, such as links to news articles or political content, and not as much stuff about me personally." Only 14% of respondents reported using lists or filters to control who sees what. This is another question that had some interesting variations depending on Enneagram type.

Comments: More than half of respondents will occasionally read comments on news articles or other sites, depending on the site. But a third responded, "When/If I read the comments, I'm always sorry afterwards and feel like I need a shower." (I feel ya!)

In the comment portion of this question, people clarified their answers. For example, some folks will always read comments if it's an online community they feel a part of (e.g. RevGalBlogPals), as opposed to say, USA Today. Other comments were almost confessional in nature. One respondent said, "I often read articles, like about Michael Sam's coming out, and think 'I definitely don't want to know what the commenters are saying about this'...and then I look, because I can't stop the rubbernecking...and then I am immediately sorry." Again: I feel ya.

What We Would Change: The final question asked what we would like to change about our online/social media habits. This is really the heart of what I'm interested in, and were I to do this again, I'd focus more questions on it, but I have emails from numerous kind people who are willing to talk further.

A few people (mostly of a certain type---tune in next time) questioned why all of of the choices were phrased negatively: Social media is a positive in my life! I want more! one person commented. I had to laugh---I guess the choices reveal where I am, or where I was when I wrote the question! I get overwhelmed sometimes.

Anyway, here are the results. People could choose more than one:

51% I'm on these sites more than I should be or would like to be. I find it hard to disengage.

33% I feel like these new technologies have negatively affected my attention span.

24% I would like to do more on social media but lack time, expertise, etc.

13% Other people's postings can leave me feeling down or dissatisfied with my own life. [I find it interesting that it's so law. It's become conventional wisdom that other people's bragbooking and 'perfectly curated' personas lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. Thirteen percent isn't nothing, but this result suggests the problem isn't at all widespread.

11% I feel overwhelmed having to keep up with so many people's lives.

9% I feel burdened by the desire to present a "persona" online that doesn't always match me.

9% I get embroiled in conflict/comment wars online that I find it hard to extricate from (including emotionally).

What do you see in these results? What do you wonder about further?

In my next post, I'll share a few tidbits about each of the nine Enneagram type.

You're Probably Not Addicted to the Internet. Although...

A few weeks ago I heard an NPR story about reSTART, an inpatient treatment program for people who are addicted to the Internet. It was eye-opening. Most of the program's clients are young men addicted to video games, in some cases playing for 12 hours a day for weeks and months on end. I grew up around the language of addiction. My father was a recovering alcoholic from the time I was three years old. My dad got sober not through an in-patient program but through Alcoholics Anonymous. From an early age I understood that, whether because of genetics or because of the complexities of our family system, I should be vigilant about alcohol's effects on me.

Today I am a social drinker who can't stand the feeling of being drunk. But I do think a lot about my Internet use, especially social media programs like Twitter and Facebook. It doesn't impact my parenting or my job like the reSTART clients. I take a tech sabbath every weekend and am pretty good about sticking to it.

But it's harder to immerse myself in a long book than it was even six or seven years ago. Granted, I recently finished Ann Patchett's State of Wonder and could not put it down! But books that  make me work hard often have me reaching for the smartphone every chapter or so. It's the oft-lamented death of the attention span.

As a writer, I crave long uninterrupted time with my thoughts---tough to come by with part-time ministry, three kids and a spouse. But when I am able to set a day aside for writing, it's hard to quiet the twitchy mind that wants to reach for the gadget and check Pinterest... again. (Hey, someone may have posted more pumpkin recipes! Or Nutella! In a slow-cooker!)

There is something chemical going on.

Around the time I might have curtailed or even quit Facebook and Twitter, two things happened. One: I got a call as a solo pastor, which means I don't have staff colleagues to hang with around the water cooler. Social media helps fill that need to be, well, social.

And two: I started gearing up to publish (and promote) Sabbath in the Suburbs. I treasure the opportunity to connect with readers, and social media makes that a convenient (and yes, meaningful) activity. But there is also a cost to being so connected.

The NPR story was helpful because it allowed me to give myself a break. The poor folks who enter reSTART have flunked out of school and gotten fired. That's a far cry from worrying about the ability to read a challenging novel without interruption.

The downside of such news stories is that they can let us off the hook. I expect there's a good number of us who worry that we're in a troubling place between social drinkers and problem drinkers. It doesn't serve us well to say, "Well I'm not as bad as those people so I'm fine."

What do you think? reSTART has an Internet Addiction survey if you're interested in considering your own use and habits.

Friday Link Love

Some stuff that crossed my 'desk' this week that I found interesting: What Gets in the Way of Delegating?

As our session begins a new way of doing our work, appropriate delegation will be essential. This has some good ways of thinking about what stands in the way of delegating.

Asking Questions

A recent study pitted students in a library against students using Google. Both groups had to answer a set of questions. Hal Varian, Google's chief economist was overjoyed at the results:

It took them 7 minutes to answer the questions on Google and 22 minutes to answer them in the library. Think about all the time saved! Thirty years ago, getting answers was really expensive, so we asked very few questions. Now getting answers is cheap, so we ask billions of questions a day, like “what is Jennifer Aniston having for breakfast?” We would have never asked that 30 years ago.

Nicholas Carr isn't satisfied:

...Maybe the question we should be asking, not of Google but of ourselves, is what types of questions the Net is encouraging us to ask. Should human thought be gauged by its output or by its quality?

Interesting stuff.

What Use Is Poetry, Really?

On the first day of National Poetry Month: a review of Wendell Berry's recent book about William Carlos Williams. Essential reading for the poetically inclined.

The Surprising Truth about Addiction

Smoking is at the top of the charts in terms of difficulty of quitting. But the majority of ex-smokers quit without any aid––neither nicotine patches nor gum, Smokenders groups nor hypnotism. (Don't take my word for it; at your next social gathering, ask how many people have quit smoking on their own.) In fact, as many cigarette smokers quit on their own, an even higher percentage of heroin and cocaine addicts and alcoholics quit without treatment. It is simply more difficult to keep these habits going through adulthood. It's hard to go to Disney World with your family while you are shooting heroin. Addicts who quit on their own typically report that they did so in order to achieve normalcy.

Tools for Thinking

I find David Brooks to be kind of a pinhead, but this is pretty interesting stuff.

A few months ago, Steven Pinker of Harvard asked a smart question: What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?

The Origins of Good Ideas

We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings, a gifted mind somehow seeing over the detritus of old ideas and ossified tradition.

But ideas are works of bricolage. They are, almost inevitably, networks of other ideas. We take the ideas we've inherited or stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape. We like to think of our ideas as a $40,000 incubator, shipped direct from the factory, but in reality they've been cobbled together with spare parts that happened to be sitting in the garage.

Have a great weekend...