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How to Save a Billion Hours
Accepting cookies, two-factor authentication, four-digit years—all these time-wasters add up.
By Mark Penn, WSJ
Dec. 27, 2023 5:35 pm ET
The average American spends 6 hours, 58 minutes a day on the internet. That adds up to 536.55 billion hours a year for all of us. We could save billions of hours by addressing inefficiencies introduced mostly by lawyers and politicians:
• Accepting and rejecting cookies. Most people don’t even know what cookies are when they answer this question 30 or 40 times a day. It would greatly simplify your day if you could set it and forget it or at least be asked for only certain types of sites, such as medical ones. Blame this one on the European politicians who invented General Data Protection Regulation, which increases the cost of advertising and walls off data for the benefit of big companies while also wasting your time.
• Two-factor authentication. What started as a well-intentioned attempt to increase security has devolved into an endless back-and-forth of plugging in random six-digit numbers. Just check our eyeballs and be done with it already.
• “You’re on mute.” Two years since the pandemic ended, this is still one of the most uttered phrases on the internet. It stops everyone on the call and forces the muted party to repeat what he just said. Make the “mute” sign a huge red button that lights up when you talk while on mute.
• Four-digit years. We’re almost a quarter-century past Y2K and could get by with two digits for another lifetime.
• Accepting 30-page terms and conditions. These documents have been written by the same kinds of law firms that advised those college presidents. Most of them could just say, “It’s free—you’re responsible.” Or maybe just let sites file all these somewhere you can find them if you are dying to read the terms of service and skip the ceremonial approvals.
I could go on about how many times we still have to type our emails and names, but you get the point—there are some amazing new technologies out there and yet the silliest, most time-wasting low-hanging fruit remains to be picked. Before we start buying home robots, let’s save a billion hours by putting the consumers’ experience first and lawyers last, and simplifying our digital life.
Mr. Penn is chairman and CEO of Stagwell Inc. and chairman of the Harris Poll. He is a former chief strategy officer at Microsoft.