Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

When Facebook isn't free

I've been asking friends a simple question over the past month: if Facebook started charging a monthly fee, what's the most you'd be willing to pay? Take a second and think about your answer.

Most people I talked to, unsurprisingly, said $0 is the maximum they'd pay for Facebook. 1-3 people said they'd pay $5 a month for Facebook, assuming all their friends stayed on the site.

This is remarkable to me, because so many people are on Facebook and people spend so much time on Facebook. In fact, the average American spends 40 minutes on Facebook, according to a July 2014 report. That's a remarkable amount of time for something that's close to value-less, based on the results of my straw poll.

Why do you think this is the case?

I'd contend because Facebook is free. The thing is, it's not. Time has a tremendous opportunity cost - there's so much other stuff you can be doing with time. Especially when you think of Facebook time in aggregate - what would you do with an extra 250 hours a year?

Perhaps that's also why folks use Facebook profusely. It's hard to imagine what you would do with an extra 300 hours a year. It's less daunting to just use Facebook, than to go through the deep reflection required to imagine new possibilities for your own life. We don't exactly live in a society with that's facilitating of that sort of imaginative visioning, unless you grow up with uncommon privileges.

That's a deeper issue, I'd say, than the fact that folks use Facebook a lot. What would it take to create a world where people are more likely to imagine a different future for themselves, rather than use that time on Facebook?

Enter, the liberal arts.