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After yet another late night spent browsing the Internet, Tracy Zheng, a 30-year-old PhD student at Nanjing University, swore to stop wasting time she could hardly spare.
“I had a lot of books and papers to read, but instead I wasted my time online.” She said she spends about five hours a day reading micro blogs, Lily BBS — a site for students at her university — and other sites.
At most, she spends eight to nine hours online, switching from one service to another. “Sometimes when I was reading academic papers on my computer I would stop for a rest and read other things online. But I would continue doing that for a couple of hours without thinking.
“I had a lot of reading plans, but I just couldn’t get anything done,” she said. “The problem was that what I got from those websites was just mostly campus gossip. Sometimes I became very frustrated and anxious.”
Zheng said she tends to put off important activities until a deadline looms, and feels the social networking services have worsened this tendency.
The services are a direct descendant of basic e-mail, which evolved into Bulletin Board Systems, then Facebook or its Chinese equivalent Renren, on to Twitter or Weibo, through to MySpace or QQ space and a wide range of other sites.
Facebook has more than 1 billion registered users across the globe, and one-half of them sign in every day. Twitter boasts 550 million active registered users, while Renren has 280 million. Weibo has more than 500 million and WeChat, which has been growing rapidly since it started in January 2011, now has more than 500 million users.
Chinese Internet users spent more time on social media sites than their counterparts in Japan and the United States, an average of 46 minutes per day, compared with seven in Japan and 37 in the US, according to a 2012 report by McKinsey & Co.
Rationing online time
However, things may be changing. Procrastinators on douban.com, one of the leading social networking services favored by well-educated young Chinese, have formed support groups to fight the problem. Group members pledge to reduce their daily browsing time to five hours. They share their experiences and handy tips, such as the StayFocusd application.