Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Bill Gates doesn’t own a television

A few years ago I read James Wallace’s and Jim Erickson’s book, Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire. The book chronicles the early years of Microsoft. It covers Gates’ teenage years, and the years during which he took Microsoft from a two-man company (run by Gates and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen) to a major force in the software industry.

You might love Bill Gates or you might actively dislike him. (I’ve found that Gates’ detractors have become less numerous in recent years, since Gates has retired from the day-to-day management of Microsoft. Gates is now better known, perhaps, for his charitable work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has undeniably accomplished a lot of good.)

But whatever you think about Bill Gates or the products of Microsoft (full disclosure: I’m an Mac addict, myself), you can’t deny that Bill Gates has achieved results. In 2011 Gates was identified as the wealthiest American, and the world’s second wealthiest person. Microsoft—a company that was virtually unknown in 1980—is today the largest software firm in the world, with annual sales of $78 billion.

Not a bad set of results for a college dropout. (Although Gates was accepted at Harvard University and took classes for a while, he dropped out after completing his sophomore year.)

One of the interesting facts revealed in Hard Drive is that Gates did not own a television set during the high-growth years of Microsoft. The entrepreneur could have easily afforded one, of course; but he chose to forgo the purchase and ownership of a TV.

Why? The simple answer was: focus. Gates seemed to realize—even at a very young age—the gargantuan effort that the achievement of his goals would require. He also realized that television was a major form of distraction.

There are many sources of distraction, of course, both internal and external. Within the category of external distractions, however, the electronic media is easily the most common and the most insidious. And “electronic media” has become far more seductive and pervasive than it was in the late 1970s and 1980s, when Gates was building Microsoft. Today there are hundreds of television channels (thanks to satellite TV and cable). And then there’s the Internet—which is replete with Facebook, YouTube, and other avenues of endless distraction.

Because these distractions are so deeply engrained in our individual lives and society as a whole, it is easy to fall into the unexamined belief that these things are necessities.
We forget that it is perfectly possible to lead a comfortable, fulfilled life without spending several hours before the television each day. (Bill Gates certainly proved that.) And why you might not want to give up the Internet entirely, it is certainly worthwhile to examine the time you spend on the Internet, and how you spend it.

One 2011 study revealed that Facebook users who own smart phones checked the social media site fourteen times per day. Seventy-nine percent of such users also checked the site within fifteen minutes of waking up.

All that non-productive Internet time and focus could be applied to the achievement of your goals. Over the course of a year, you could dramatically increase your results toward your goals simply by redirecting your Facebook time to more productive pursuits. The average American spends about eight hours per month on the site—the equivalent of a full workday. So eliminating Facebook from your life would be the equivalent of giving yourself more than two full workweeks per year (based on a five-day week) to take concrete steps toward your goals.

In May of 2011, Americans spent 53.5 billion minutes on Facebook. So imagine how much more we could achieve as a nation if everyone took this advice. Imagine how many more doctorates would be earned, more books read and written, more businesses started.   
I think it's safe to say that Bill Gates owns a television today. (Although, having never been a guest in his home, I can’t say for sure). But Bill Gates has now achieved his goals. When he was working to achieve them, television was something that he did without.

If you find yourself too busy at the end of each of day, perhaps you could also consider life without TV—and without other forms of electronic distraction, as well.