There is no such thing as a free lunch. Not even on the internet.
A large chunk of the internet is allowed to exist because it is supported by an advertising business model. Instead of users paying directly for services, brands pay for the opportunity to market their goods and services to users. Yet, even with a third-party in the value chain, users still pay a price for their free content and digital services: we pay with time and attention. And while neither of these is properly valued, time and attention are two of our most valuable, non-renewable resources, and we should be more careful with how we spend them.
Advertising is not inherently unproductive. In fact, the "Patron Saint of Advertising" is none other than Benjamin Franklin, one of the more productive figures in history. I personally benefit each day from ad-supported productivity tools (Gmail, Google Maps, LinkedIn) that I am able to access because they are supported by this business model. But a few of my smarter friends are staunch advocates of Adblocking tools, and I'm starting to wonder if they're on to something.
Time is something that interests me greatly. My business exists for the sake of saving people time. As an entrepreneur, I have come to respect the fact that while money, talent, equipment, customers, and real estate can all be replaced or swapped out, time has finite, unchangeable limits. Advertising consumes a measurable quantity of my life. How many years worth of TV commercials have I sat through? For what percentage of my daily commute am I listening to the radio (yes, I still listen to terrestrial radio) and hearing ads, not music? Even interstitial ads on major news sites or popular YouTube videos bite into my time.
Attention is a bit less tangible, and more difficult to measure. Back in June, I realized that I had developed a good control over my time, my control over my attention was subpar. One factor that was affecting this: sleep. About 6 months ago, I was notoriously opposed to sleeping. This summer, I decided to start tracking my sleep, with the goal of moving my nightly average from 6 hours to 8 hours (I'm averaging over 7 for December). The result: I've felt more focused throughout the day, I have been more productive (currently quantified by percentage of daily goals set, then achieved). Because of the way that time and attention work in concert, I am actually producing more during fewer hours of work. So while I haven't quantified attention yet, I know that it has an affect on my productive output similar to time.
All of this goes to say that we should not take for granted the things (like advertising) that can sap away our attention, and thus cost us the human energy we need to be a productive society.
Three productivity articles from this week that helped inspire this post:
7 Things Highly Productive People Do (hint: they don't get distracted)