After several years of suggestion, I finally started reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
In the opening chapter, he addresses questions I’ve been asking myself recently when it comes to social media use:
• How does this service align with my values?
• Is this the absolute best way to accomplish what I want to accomplish? What are the alternatives?
• What are the benefits and what are the costs of using this? Does one outweigh the other?
The book is lovely so far. In short, digital minimalism does not mean deleting every app and service or switching to a flip phone.
The lifestyle of a digital minimalist is that of using the absolute minimum amount of technology needed to fulfill one’s values.
Three weeks ago, after watching The Social Dilemma, I set out on a 10-day challenge.
The rule was that I couldn’t check any social media except for once in the morning, right after my morning routine. I could use the messages features. I could post if I wanted. But after my morning run-through, I could not check any type of notification.
What began as a difficult and cracked out 10 days has transitioned into a new philosophy on the value of social media. Like quitting soda, I had the shakes at first–reaching for my phone to check it and immediately putting it down as I remembered the rule. But eventually, the cravings and compulsions came to an end.
This severe reduction of phone and social media use has led to cosmic changes in my wellbeing:
• I feel more present. When people talk to me, it’s noticeably easier for me to maintain eye-contact, listen deeply to what they’re saying, and piece portions of conversation together.
• I’m less insecure. Since I’m not constantly looking at other people’s advertised lives, I don’t spend time comparing my “inside” to their “outside.” I also spend zero time thinking about who’s liked my post or how many likes I’ve received.
• I’m forced to do the things I love. I’ve read more in these past 3 weeks than the previous 3 months combined. I’ve spent significantly more time working on freelance projects, building a business, and writing. When I’m in the presence of others, I talk to them…I mean I really talk to them.
I mentioned the balance between benefits and costs earlier. The most popular argument in the case for technology is that it’s possible to provide immense value. Of course this is true, and when it happens, it’s a wonderful thing.
Radical religious fundamentalists and white supremacists have been converted out of their bigoted ways through conversations on Twitter.
Aspiring artists, musicians, and creators (myself included) have been able to quickly share their content to large numbers of people.
The list of possible benefits goes on and on. But this argument contains faulty logic and misses the point for most people.
Is it completely justified to take part in something just because it is possible that you could derive value from it?
Do we do this with anything else? Should you stay in a toxic relationship because sometimes he/she might treat you with respect? Should you keep working this job that makes you miserable because it’s possible to find opportunity there? Should you keep using highly-addictive technology because you can occasionally connect with people you don’t normally keep in contact with?
I’m NOT posing these as rhetorical questions. These are questions you have to be able to answer yourself.
For me, the benefits of daily social media usage were: a way to chat with acquaintances from afar, posting fun videos, and enjoying memes.
The costs: insecurity by comparison, the massive loss of productivity, and the consistent seeking of approval.
An easy decision.
As always, every person is different. What works for me will not work for the next person, and so on. But I highly encourage you to at least ask yourself (write down if you have to) what are the specific benefits and costs to using technology the way you’re using it right now.
Once you have clear answers, compare them. It’ll be easier to make adjustments once you have weighed the effects.
“Does using this bring me consistent value, or am I just addicted to this thing that will possibly bring me value?”