Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian:
One Friday in April 2016, as that year’s polarising US presidential race intensified, and more than 30 armed conflicts raged around the globe, approximately 3 million people spent part of their day watching two reporters from BuzzFeed wrap rubber bands around a watermelon. Gradually, over the course of 43 agonising minutes, the pressure ramped up – the psychological kind and the physical force on the watermelon – until, at minute 44, the 686th rubber band was applied. What happened next won’t amaze you: the watermelon exploded, messily. The reporters high-fived, wiped the splatters from their reflective goggles, then ate some of the fruit. The broadcast ended. Earth continued its orbit around the sun.
I’m not mentioning this story to suggest there’s anything especially shameful about spending 44 minutes of your life staring at a watermelon on the internet. But it’s a vivid illustration of one central obstacle we encounter when it comes to our efforts to use time well: distraction. After all, it hardly matters how committed you are to making the best use of your limited time if, day after day, your attention gets wrenched away by things you never wanted to focus on. It’s a safe bet that none of those 3 million people woke up that morning with the intention of using a portion of their lives to watch a watermelon burst; nor, when the moment arrived, did they necessarily feel as though they were freely choosing to do so. “I want to stop watching so bad but I’m already committed,” read one typically rueful comment on Facebook. “I’ve been watching you guys put rubber bands around a watermelon for 40 minutes,” wrote someone else. “What am I doing with my life?”
The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short. Here’s one way of putting things in perspective: the first modern humans appeared on the plains of Africa at least 200,000 years ago, and scientists estimate that life, in some form, will persist for another 1.5bn years or more, until the intensifying heat of the sun condemns the last organism to death. But you? Assuming you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks.