“Well, obviously you’re not studying,” your friend says as she leans across the barrier between two library cubicles. She points at your laptop screen. “You’re on Facebook.”
Your friend was probably thinking that since you’re scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, you couldn’t possibly be concentrating on your work. In fact, one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear for avoiding procrastination is to turn off your Wi-Fi. Obviously, that’s more difficult when you’re researching an essay or taking an online quiz—so we just close our social media tabs. Because, let’s face it, your Twitter feed is what’s holding you back, right?
Actually, maybe not. Several studies throughout the past few years have found that surfing social media sites increases productivity. In fact, a study published in 2010 says that when employees visit social networking sites, they get a much-needed break from the stress of working a nine-hour shift. In the long run, this increased their ability to concentrate and boosted their productivity by 9%. Thus, advocates of Internet surfing during the workday say that browsing the Internet for a reasonable amount of time is a mental refresher. That “reasonable amount of time” is about 20% of the shift. That’s a little over an hour and a half of a nine-to-five job.
A more recent report from this year says that not only can social media boost workplace output, it also brings employees closer to one another. Many coworkers who share the same social networking sites discuss office-related issues, rather than straying far from their work.
But that isn’t to say that browsing social media sites has no negative effect. After having noticed a lack of attention, an estimated 54% of offices have blocked all social networking sites during work. In 2009, The Tech Journal reported that access to Facebook decreased productivity by 1.5% in workplaces. “Some employees spent more than two hours a day on social networking sites,” the article says, “even though 87% of them admitted they had no work-related reason for doing so.”
It seems safe to say that social media has both negative and positive consequences, depending mostly on how it’s used. But the debate often ignores a demographic that’s particularly important for social media: students. Does access to social media during study time influence students the same way it influences office employees? Many students believe that surfing the Internet will only distract them. This view is especially apparent during the busy midterm season, when some students outright deactivate their Facebook accounts. But since it’s proven that social media can boost workplace efficiency, could surfing help students be productive for the same reasons?
Orlean Cabanilla, a third-year student, admitted to using all the typical social networking sites. But she says she uses Facebook as a study tool. “People post questions in groups on Facebook,” she explains, “and if I ever have any questions on the materials we’re learning in class, I can ask other students in my program.” Cabanilla also keeps her account active to stay in touch with relatives outside the country.
The idea of using Facebook as a study tool for group discussions recalls how office employees form closer bonds by chatting about work-related topics. And asking study questions probably has a better effect on productivity.
Besides, even when access to social media is removed—voluntarily or not—people find other ways to avoid working. Second-year student John Daly Voyska said he usually procrastinates by playing video games. He said that even though he spends more time away from work than he initially expects to, playing video games provides a good refresher. When he eventually gets back to work, he feels much more motivated.
The same is probably true of social media—as long as we do eventually get back to work. And for those of us who use it as our form of procrastination, if we shut it off we’ll probably find other ways to spend that time instead of working, whether we’re at the office or the library. So keep those cat videos coming.