Opportunity Cost & Time

Sarah McMahon
4 min readOct 22, 2023

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

The average American spends five to six hours each day on their phone. Some people never knew a world in which there weren’t cellphones, but for those of us who do, it’s reasonable to consider what we did with all those hours. Myself, like many people, work on their phone, substantially increasing the daily time spent on devices. I use my phone to call (actually call) customers, log activities in Salesforce, occasionally text customers, check email, etc.

I am also of a generation that didn’t grow up with cellphones. We had a box TV and a boxy computer with very slow internet. We rented VCR movies from the local grocery store or library, rewinding them before we returned them to avoid any unwanted scolding. I read hundreds of books and wrote dozens of stories and poems. Without constant distraction, my mind was free to wander. Creativity could flourish (and did). There is substantial evidence that creativity is stifled by technology in that we are endlessly distracted and prone to copy others’ creative works.

What I wanted to know though, is what Americans are spending their time on, and where we could free up space for more productive activities. The depth of lost potential lives in the time we’ve all lost. Where though, has all that time gone?

The following statistics came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and represent annual averages from working Americans:

- 9.7 hours on “personal care, including sleep”

- 6.07 hours working

- 1.5 on household activities

- 4.05 on leisure or sport

-1.23 eating/drinking

- 0.56 purchasing goods/services

- 0.48 caring for household members

- 0.20 on religious/civic activities

- 0.21 on “other”