To begin, I praise, give and recommend, Cal Newport’s Deep Work to my team, colleagues, friends or anyone who listens. I love the book. This opus is required reading for working and aspiring professionals. And I’d be the first to admit I’m a follower of his work-check his newsletter out if you haven’t already. Why? Well, I study distributed systems, toy around with open source software, and have meandered in the technology industry for twenty years plus. Call me a Cal Newport fan boy.
When I discovered his latest book had found its way into the wild, I immediately searched and clicked download from the Kindle store. I think I finished two days later-a cross country flight without WiFi helped.
Before getting to the heart of the book, social media technology has merit. You can loosely keep track of friends from yesteryear, including checking out your old high school girlfriend to dream about what might have been. Find local gathering places and upcoming events, a must in Music City. Share running tips for the next marathon. And you can ask about any question and get an answer in return. Yes, at face value Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest maybe the mankind’s greatest invention. Social is part of our DNA.
While the entire Democratic Party decries the evils of social, you do that when you waste almost one trillion dollars and lose to Donald Trump (love or hate great disrupters in history), remember there is goodness in this world. Maybe, we should all cheer and say, “Thank you, Zuck.”
Outside of overthrowing the occasional government, there is one inherent problem in these systems. These platforms, by design, are built to keep people inside its walls for as long as possible. Click this. Like that. The system is an advertiser’s dream. Bill Marr summarizes these addictive qualities perfectly:
The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.
And why? Well, these companies make money off your usage. They care about the data generated from mobile tracking and user behavior. The end customer aren’t the true users. The customers are big companies that pay to advertise. The users are inside the matrix, hooked up to a vast machine for power, and are living inside a digital world.
What Newport advocates in his books, not just this one, is to be intentional with your time. Highlight your values and only leverage these platforms to further your own identity. Take the red bill and join Morpheus in fighting the machines inside the matrix:
I’ve become convinced that what you need instead is a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else.
In essence, Cal wants you to answer the question, How do you use your time? Here were a few of my takeaways:
- Be intentional with your use of said “social” services. Only use the technology for leisure or fun a certain amount of time each week and ignore the rest. Unless, if you’re using that to show off your craft or some other reason. I’ve freed up time to write, attend concerts, and read books since cutting the services and being more thoughtful with my time.
- Join a club. Force yourself to meet new people. Truly, be social ala Ben Franklin. He started the library system to share books, meaning he talked about them with other people. Real ones.
- Create a calendar, similar to work, to guard your social time. Having a social calendar sounds cool. Will see how this works.
- Turn off notifications, those little red bubbles that show what you’re missing in an application are often misleading. If bubbles somehow deletes your attention, turn the feature off. Delete these applications from your phone.
- Do not disturb mode. Put this on all the time, program the exceptions – children, your boss, etc.,
Notes and Highlights (At the time, I thought these were important):
Dark side of the Moon
In an open marketplace for attention, darker emotions attract more eyeballs than positive and constructive thoughts. For heavy internet users, repeated interaction with this darkness can become a source of draining negativity—a steep price that many don’t even realize they’re paying to support their compulsive connectivity.
As Adam Alter writes: “We’re social beings who can’t ever completely ignore what other people think of us.” This behavior, of course, is adaptive. In Paleolithic times, it was important that you carefully managed your social standing with other members of your tribe because your survival depended on it. In the twenty-first century, however, new technologies have hijacked this deep drive to create profitable behavioral addictions.
Leah Pearlman, who was a product manager on the team that developed the “Like” button for Facebook (she was the author of the blog post announcing the feature in 2009), has become so wary of the havoc it causes that now, as a small business owner, she hires a social media manager to handle her Facebook account so she can avoid exposure to the service’s manipulation of the human social drive. “Whether there’s a notification or not, it doesn’t really feel that good,” Pearlman said about the experience of checking social media feedback. “Whatever we’re hoping to see, it never quite meets that bar.”
Digital Minimalist Principles
Principal #1: Clutter is costly. Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation. After reading this, I went through my phone and wondered why I had so many applications. I purge them often because I’m not sure what they are used for. I deleted the weather application because these are basically mining your geo location for data. How do you think these services pay for their development?
Principle #2: Optimization is important. Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology. Delete all of your applications. Hang out for a month. And only add those back you truly need.
Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying. Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.
The Currency of Time
This magician’s trick of shifting the units of measure from money to time is the core novelty of what the philosopher Frédéric Gros calls Thoreau’s “new economics,” a theory that builds on the following axiom, which Thoreau establishes early in Walden: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” Use your time for travel, hobbies and dock diving.
I conjecture that the vast majority of regular social media users can receive the vast majority of the value these services provide their life in as little as twenty to forty minutes of use per week. This observation terrifies social media companies because their business model depends on your engaging their products for as many minutes as possible. This is why, when defending their products, they prefer to focus on the question of why you use them, not how you use them. Once people start thinking seriously about the latter question, they tend to recognize that they’re spending way too much time online. One has to wonder how you’d use these services if they cost money? How much would you use Facebook if the cost ran three or four cents each minute?
Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by other people and focus instead on your own thoughts and experiences—wherever you happen to be.
Benjamin Franklin took up the subject in his journal: “I have read abundance of fine things on the subject of solitude. . . . I acknowledge solitude an agreeable refreshment to a busy mind.”
Impact on Children and Differences Between Generations
Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram,” he writes, “but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits—round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers—were partly to blame for their children’s struggles.”
People born before the mid-1980s have strong memories of life without cell phones. All of the concerns listed above still existed in theory, but no one worried much about them. Before I had my driver’s license, for example, if I needed someone to pick me up from school after sports practice, I’d use a payphone: sometimes my parents were home, and sometimes I had to leave a message and hope they got it. Put another way, in 90 percent of your daily life, the presence of a cell phone either doesn’t matter or makes things only slightly more convenient. They’re useful, but it’s hyperbolic to believe its ubiquitous presence is vital. I remember a day when I would call collect, say my name, and then hang up the pay phone. Like a secret agent, the code word told my mother to pick me up at school. Oh, the memories. And yes, my parents remember a time when they walked bare foot to school in three feet of snow.
Social Media Makes Us Less Social Indeed
The key issue is that using social media tends to take people away from the real-world socializing that’s massively more valuable. As the negative studies imply, the more you use social media, the less time you tend to devote to offline interaction, and therefore the worse this value deficit becomes—leaving the heaviest social media users much more likely to be lonely and miserable. The small boosts you receive from posting on a friend’s wall or liking their latest Instagram photo can’t come close to compensating for the large loss experienced by no longer spending real-world time with that same friend.
Humans are naturally biased toward activities that require less energy in the short term, even if it’s more harmful in the long term—so we end up texting our sibling instead of calling them on the phone, or liking a picture of a friend’s new baby instead of stopping by to visit.
Loss of Productivity
One of my favorite parts of the book, the author described a scene where a Facebook executive touted how many hours a day people spent on the platform. A panelist asked, The guy who’s spending twelve hours a day on Facebook, do you think he’ll be able to do what you’ve done?”
The average user now spends fifty minutes per day on Facebook products alone. Throw in other popular social media services and sites, and this number grows much larger. This type of compulsive use is not an accident, it’s instead a fundamental play in the digital attention economy. Assuming that you use Facebook, list the most important things it provides you—the particular activities that you would really miss if you were forced to stop using the service altogether. Now imagine that Facebook started charging you by the minute. How much time would you really need to spend in the typical week to keep up with your list of important Facebook activities? For most people, the answer is surprisingly small; somewhere around twenty to thirty minutes. This is probably generous.