What kind of internet user are you?

Back in 2010, Jacquelyn Krones, a (then) Senior Product Manager at Microsoft (she now is Director of Responsible AI Practice, Microsoft) revealed the results of a multi-year, large-scale ethnographic study on how people searched for information on different devices.

Beyond the many kinds of interesting details, there was one specific part that intrigued me a lot.

The study found that 3 kinds of activities brought people to search. The 3 types could easily be extrapolated to broader use of social media and internet too.

1. Mission
Here, people have a specific and clearly defined goal. They want to complete that particular task effectively.

For example, I may want the phone number of a particular branch of my bank.

2. Excavation
Here, people are not looking for a specific answer. They want to make a decision and want to use as much information as it is available to combine the data/details and then make a decision.

For instance, I could be looking at the best place to order burgers from, near my home. A few searches later, after having skimmed reviews and prices, I could make my decision and order.

3. Exploration
Here, people do not have a goal. All they want is to be delighted while (or) killing time. The objective here usually is to watch/read things they haven’t seen/read before so that they are engaged.

The research pegged these behaviors to devices too.

We complete missions on the mobile phone, usually, because it is quick and handy.

We use tablets or laptops for excavations because we may be opening multiple tabs and taking notes as we go along.

We may be using mobile phones for exploration is we want to kill time on-the-go – we search and scroll on social media feeds in the hope to watch a lot of nuggets of entertaining content. Or we may use the internet-connected TV if we want to spend time watching a new show on an OTT platform, and search on that platform till we land on something we think we like, and continue to watch.

These behaviors seem perfect to explain broadly how we waste time on a digital device.

When we are on a ‘Mission mode’, we enter and exit, after we get our pointed need sorted.

When we are on ‘Excavation mode’, we usually have a specific, broadly defined objective and drive towards that with focus.

Even here, if we have nothing to ‘excavate’, we may not be using this mode at all. This is where purposeful and goal-oriented curiosity helps. A huge part of my internet usage is in this mode.

From a personal branding perspective, I highly recommend in my workshops that we should use the internet purposefully, and less for wasting/killing time since it is a bottomless pit. On social media feeds, it is very, very easy to get lost while scrolling up and up and completely lose track of time.

I also recommend purposeful content sharing in a way that it enhances your defined personal brand. Towards this, the thumb-rule is that you read 10X more than you share. This is where a huge chunk of my ‘excavation’ goes – to find topics to write about, I read a LOT, gathering details and forming my views as I go along, and take notes. Almost all of this is on my laptop.

The ‘Exploration mode’ is all about time wastage, of course.

But, even here, you could make it less of a time wastage using the excavation-mode to figure out what you want to consume when you want to kill time. I add TV shows/films on a playlist on Netflix, Prime Video, or Disney Hotstar, add articles I want to read later on Pocket, and anyway have my Feedly RSS feeds, or my audiobook or e-book app to check out whenever I have no specific reason to pick an internet-connected device.

Or, even while on social media, I use tools to control what I see. For instance, Lists on Twitter. Considering Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn does not allow such controlled usage, I rarely scroll through the timelines aimlessly in the hope that something may interest me.

The next time you pick up/sit in front of an internet-connected device, think about what mode you are in, and consciously think about what you are about to get into.

The social media platforms want you to spend an inordinate amount of time on their feeds. That IS their business model.

Here is the data from Global Web Index on how much time people spend, on average, on social media, across countries. India stands at 2 hours and 36 minutes PER DAY!

So, remember to put your time to purposeful use!

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