Skip to content

How is Twitter influencing public health

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Among the people I follow on Twitter there are some who seam to be always present. They have a large number of updates, which are more or less evenly distributed throughout the day. It is pretty obvious that these people basically spend their entire days on Twitter. How they manage to do this is a mystery to me, but right now I am interested in something else. I am interested how this affects their health. 

Sure you can use Twitter on your mobile device, like iPhone. You could maybe be standing while doing so, but probably not running. Still I believe people mainly use Twitter while sitting down in front of their computers. 

Number of Twitter users

The fact is that the official Twitter statistics are not available, so we can only speculate about the actual number of users. In March 2008, TechCrunch presented Twitter usage stats which they claimed originated from a source close to the company. At that time Twitter had around 1 million users out of which 200 000 were active every week, sending 3 million tweets per day (15 tweets user/day). These numbers cannot possibility still be the same, because numerous parameters show that Twitter has seen huge growth since last year. According to Compete, number of Twitter visitors grew astounding 752% in 2008. As a result Twitter had over 19 million unique visitors in April 2009. Does this mean Twitter has 19 million user? Yes, No? More, Less? I don’t know, probably more. Daniel Scocco from Daily Blog Tips thinks that there are around 5 million users, based on the unique user ID that each account has. On the other hand, eMarketer estimates there were roughly 6 million Twitter users in the US in 2008. A lot of different figures, so let’s use the most pessimistic one for our analysis, 5 million users sending 75 million tweets per day.

Time spent on Twitter

Twitter users do two things, they tweet and read other people’s tweets. Let’s say that the average Twitter user types at the speed of 70 words per minute and that there are on average 20 words per tweet (5 characters per word, 100 characters per tweet). This means that the average time to type a single tweet is 30 seconds. If we were to include time needed to let’s say reread the tweet before posting, check spelling or paste a link, average time needed to post a tweet would probably be longer. However, since we are underestimating things from the begging, let’s go ahead with 30 seconds.

How much time do all Twitter users spend per day writing tweets?

number of tweets per day x time needed to type a single tweet
75 million x 30 seconds
= 2 250 000 000 seconds
= 37 500 000 minutes
= 625 000 hours
= 2 6041 days
= 71 years

How much time do all Twitter users spend per day reading tweets?

As I mentioned Twitter users also read other people’s tweets, not just write their own. I for example spend more time reading tweets than writing my own. However, let’s say that twitterers spend the equal amount of time reading tweets, as they do writing them.
= 2 250 000 000 seconds
= 37 500 000 minutes
= 625 000 hours
= 2 6041 days
= 71 years

How much time in total do all twitterers spend per day on Twitter?

The most pessimistic estimate would be that all twitterers together spend 1 250 000 minutes or 5 2082 days on Twitter every day.

Incredible figure, isn’t is? Just keep in mind that it is probably underestimated. First of all, we underestimated the number of users and then also the amount of time average users spend on Twitter. There is more activity on Twitter, like direct/private messages, which is not included in this calculation. However, this figure is still nothing compared to time spent watching TV. Clay Shirky, whose brilliant keynote you must watch, has calculated that in the US alone TV viewers spend 200 billion hours per year watching TV. Twitter users spend only little bit more than 228 million hours per year. But, there are 5 million Twitter users included in my calculation and 290 million TV viewers in the US. If there were 290 million twitterers, they would spend 12 billion hours per year on Twitter.

Is the majority of twitterers taking TV viewing time and transferring it to Twitter? Or do they still watch the same amount of TV plus using Twitter? Maybe they are watching TV and tweeting at the same time? Who knows? But there is a lot of sitting going on. According to my calculation, average twitterer sits in front of his/hers computer using Twitter 15 minutes every day. That isn’t so bad. Nevertheless there are those which I mentioned in the first paragraph that seem to be spending 12 or more hours on Twitter. People like @surgee. He has been using Twitter for 294 days during which he posted 120 180 updates. This means he spent 3,542,970 Seconds or 59,050 Minutes or 984.16 Hours or 41.01 days only writing tweets. This is something around 3.5 hours a day. Another underestimation if you ask me, cause you definitely need to spend more than 3.5 hours on Twitter to post 408 tweets each day. And if you take a quick look at Surgee’s Twitter stream, you will see he is basically there from the moment he wakes up until he goes to sleep. According to Tweetwasters, online application which calculates how much time twitterers have “wasted” on Twitter, he is the champion.

Impact on public health

No doubt, Twitter is contributing to the sedentary lifestyle. You have TV, all other stuff already on the Internet and now Twitter to allow your bum to get acquainted with your chair. Using Twitter while sitting will burn around 100 calories per hour. That means you will need about 5 hours to burn one McDonald’s Big Mac (570 calories). And if you are an average American, 37 hours to burn what you ate in one day. The FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) in the latest USA yearbook shows a per Capita Daily Consumption of 3,790 Calories for the 2000-2002 years. Sleeping on the other hand will burn 50-60 calories per hour, light exercise 250, lawn mowing 300, dancing to Rock and Roll music 400, jogging 600, and heavy running 700 calories per hour.

Twitter Kills

Should we be worried? Surgee, the twitter champion, appears slim and health on the photos. But there apart from obesity other disorders like heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and hypertension are also linked to sedentary lifestyle. And in addition, mood disorders are also more common in those with sedentary lifestyle, as well as substance use and abuse. There are some studies showing that sedentary lifestyle is even more dangerous than smoking. Do we need to put health warning messages on TVs, computers and Twitter just as we do on the packaging of cigarettes?

treadmill deskOK, don’t get all depressed. If you really cannot get off Twitter, I suggest Rock and Roll dancing while tweeting. Or maybe designing your own Treadmill Desk. This is the idea of Dr Levine from the Mayo Clinic, whose research revealed that on the average his subjects burned 100 extra calories every hour while walking slowly — at 1 mile per hour — than while sitting in a chair. Also, there are numerous fitness and nutrition experts on Twitter. Follow them for tips and inspiration. After all several studies have showed that the Internet can be excellent for delivery of weight loss programs. What ever you do, jut remember to invest at least an hour every day for your health. Get out, walk your dog, do yoga, whatever, just get off the Internet and Twitter.

The following two tabs change content below.
Emergency physician, blogger (ivor-kovic.com), innovator (ivormedical.com), researcher (researchgate.net/profile/Ivor_Kovic), speaker (youtu.be/Q-E-B3Pc8mk)...

Latest posts by Ivor Kovic (see all)