Americans spend hours in ‘internet wormholes,’ convinced they’re experts on random topics

NEW YORK — It turns out you don’t have to be in a science-fiction series to lose track of time and space. A new survey finds the average American spends 35 hours a year trapped in an “Internet wormhole.”

The poll of 2,000 Americans examined what people do when they lose track of time online. Researchers discovered the average person will spend eight minutes lost in Internet wormholes while looking something up five times a week. Three in four say time feels like it’s moving faster when they fall into these digital holes and spiral deeper into a fascinating topic; giving new meaning to that common phrase, “I don’t know where the time goes.”

The most common topics people love to research online include entertainment news (51%), current events (40%), and historical people and events (34%). The average person scours the Internet for answers to all sorts of questions and looks something up five times a day on average. This adds up to an incredible appetite for unstructured online learning.

Time to ask an ‘expert’

internet KNOWLEDGEThe survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of global learning platform FutureLearn, reveals four in five people feel the ease and availability of the Internet drives them to look up new or random information. Forty-four percent of respondents are now so confident in the knowledge they’re getting off the web that they consider themselves “unofficial experts” on certain topics.

Three in four (77%) admit to feeling a sense of satisfaction when they realize they are right when looking up a fact they weren’t sure about online. These fact-finding missions often spring to life during arguments with another person; leading to a debate that can only be settled by a quick Internet search.

Two in five (42%) say they’re most likely to get into a debate over historical events and 41 percent admit they tend to trade theories over politics or economics before someone needs to whip out a smartphone or laptop to confirm who’s right.

Over a third have debated more minute topics like the spelling of a word (37%) or which actor appeared in a movie (34%). Over half the poll (54%) described their self-proclaimed area of expertise as a bit “unconventional” and something most people wouldn’t know a lot about.

What are Americans browsing the web for?

internet KNOWLEDGEA few topics respondents are personally passionate about include Ancient Greece, sharks, quantum physics, and soap operas. Two in five (39%) think they could even make a career out of the knowledge they’ve obtained just from the unstructured learning provided by their Internet search history.

“This demonstrates that people never stop learning – we just don’t realize how much unstructured learning we do as part of our average day. It’s key to find a topic that engages you and makes you want to know more. This study shows Americans have varied interests, get a buzz from unstructured learning and frequently take to the Internet to grow their knowledge and find answers,” a spokesperson for FutureLearn says in a statement.

Forty-two percent wished they could return to the classroom to receive a more formal education in their area of Internet expertise. Many respondents clearly showed interest in heading back to school with their careers in mind. One in four (26%) would love to learn more about healthcare and the same number showed interest in psychology and mental health (24%). Twenty-five percent want to look back into the past with a history lesson while 23 percent would love to look at the stars to learn more about astronomy.

“While pandemic precautions continue for most of the country, 67 percent want to expand their knowledge on a topic that interests them. We may not be able to travel to all the places we dream of right now, but the mind serves as its own gateway to all sorts of adventures,” the FutureLearn spokesperson adds.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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