Algorithms have taken over your life folks. The best social scientists in the world spent years figuring out how to hook you like a fish using science and statistics. Everybody these days know this, but we still sit and swipe at our phones, trained like Pavlov’s dogs to drool at the sound of the dinner bell.
The big social media companies have hijacked our lives without our even being aware of it. They snuck up on us and hit us in our blindside: our ego. Like most people today I login to Facebook to see what my friends and family are doing but then find myself scrolling through hundreds of mindless posts and memes. If I see something I find amusing I’ll repost it to my time line and then check back later to see if anyone thought it was as funny as I did.
Or I’ll post a picture of my kids, or wife, or dog, or whatever and wait for the obligatory thumbs up to come in showing everyone’s approval of my life. I’m looking for that little dopamine hit I get for every thumbs up or fawning comment.
My personal weakness is Facebook and the news. I’ll be at work industriously hammering away at a project then suddenly flip over to CNN, or I’ll grab my phone and see what my friends are doing on Facebook. You might be surprised to know exactly how much time you’re wasting every day doing this.
I’ve read a couple of books by a guy named Cal Newport that takes aim at time wasting online activities. In “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” he hints at it as focus is important to achieving goals.
“Deep Work” introduces a technique of how to focus so intently on a task that you accomplish things most other people are unwilling or unable to do. It’s not easy, but it can be rewarding. One of the fundamental concepts of this technique? Don’t look at social media, email, or other digital distraction while you’re doing your deep work. Cal himself has no social media accounts, but he’s written six bestselling books and is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, so I’d say there’s something to his technique.
His last book is called “Digital Minimalism” in which he explores the idea of doing a digital detox in greater detail.
How Do You Do It?
The first thing you have to do is write down the rules of your digital minimalist experience. I put my list in my (paper) calendar so I can look at it every day as a reminder.
You need to be realistic about your rules so saying something like, “I won’t look at my smartphone for thirty days!” is setting yourself up for failure. Instead of doing that I decided that my phone would be for making calls, texting my wife as that’s an important means of communication for us, taking pictures, and listening to music.
Watching movies is fine as long as I’m with someone else when I do it. It’s more about the social aspect than mindlessly sitting in front of Netflix with a bowl of chips on my lap.
No Facebook, Instagram, or any of the other time wasters out there.
No Youtube bullshit. This can be a huge time waster for me. Things like Fail Videos are off the books right now. If I need to look at instructional videos or am doing research for an outdoor project like “How to Make a Wilderness Shelter”, that’s fine. Stopping to watch people falling off skateboards is not.
The toughest one for me to get rid of was my news addiction. I’d look at CNN ten times a day easily, or NBC News, or the BBC, or whatever to make sure I was up to date on what’s going on in the world. Here’s a little tip: the news you read is 95% bad stuff. Very rarely do I see happy stories and when I do I tend to skip them to read about the latest typhoon in Japan or something equally horrible.
My news fix now consists of watching a local news channel for thirty minutes in the morning while I make breakfast.
I still use a Kindle to do much of my reading as I subscribe to Amazon Unlimited, which basically gives me access to thousands of books free. Like anything a tablet can be a source of distractions so here’s what I did to get rid of the temptations. Uninstall every social application on your tablet. My Kindle Fire has all the applications I need natively except a good note taking app, so I downloaded Evernote to fill that niche.
Here’s a bonus of getting rid of all the apps on your tablet: the battery on my Kindle now goes all day without dropping a single bar if it’s in my bag. It used to be I’d put it in my bag and by the time I’d look at it later it would have dropped to 89% without my even touching it. Now it stays right at 100% until I use it!
Does A Detox Work?
Once I stopped looking at all this stuff I found a few things happened. First, I was able to spend more quality time with my wife (who decided to cut back on Facebook a couple of months ago herself). I’ve read about eight books in the two weeks I’ve been on my digital diet, which is exactly what I used to do back in the 80’s before the Internet came along.
I’ve become more productive at work as I’m not losing focus by flipping over to News sites or social media all the time.
I’ve started writing blog posts for this site again.
I’ve been able to pretty much finish a book I’ve been working on for years and have a couple more lined up.
More time out in the wilderness listening to nature and sitting quietly. People don’t do enough of that any more.
My stress level is way down since I’ve sold my truck, snowmobile and other toys, and now that I’ve started this detox I’ve been able to sit quietly and focus longer on difficult tasks.
So yeah, I’d say there’s something to the notion that when you cut out social media and other digital distractions your life will immediately improve.
Give It a Try
Your online life is not your real life. If you take a break from it you won’t die, but you will find other things to do. Hopefully more meaningful things.
Keep in mind the Internet isn’t something evil. It’s a tool to be used – or abused – and it’s up to you on how to use it. Some people base their business on Facebook or use it to advertise and if that’s your business model that’s great. But there are ways to use it without losing yourself in it.
You don’t have to be a Luddite. Just be mindful of how you spend your time.
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