I’ve recently finished reading a book called “Digital Minimalism”. It is written by Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and his point is simple: We need to rebuild our relationship with technology using our deeply held values as a foundation. His reasoning is clear: Technological innovation (especially digital) was handed to us before we had a chance to establish our own “philosophy” on how to use it for our real benefit. Carl says the great example is facebook “like” button.
Contrary to what many people assume, facebook did not invent the “like” feature. It was created by FriendFeed service and then it was adopted by Facebook 16 months later. But the moment it was introduced, it was a massive hit. Reason? It struck a chord with the strong human desire for “social approval”. Soon facebook became the marketplace for its users “ATTENTION”. The more users looked at their screen, the more revenue created by advertisers. All of a sudden, users were no longer dictating the use but those who who earn money from their “attention”.
The author is not against using social media at all. However, he suggest completely moving away from it for a period of time so that users can come up with their own technology philosophy so that they can re-engage for the actual “benefit” it provides.
So here are a couple of his practical suggestions I found really helpful.
1. Turn off notification or badge for apps that constantly grab your attention.
Carl’s argument is that constant, small sense of connection and approval that comes from “likes” is not just a distraction but a cheap replacement of real conversation, actually degrading our own humanness. His point is that we are simply not designed to connect with this many people this often.
2. Set a designated time to check social media/email
This is an active “attention resistance” that the author promotes. This helps “us” to be in control of “how” we want to use it, not the media company, without missing its actual benefit.
3. Find better source of entertainment
The author suggests staying away from breaking news from social media, as their quality is rather wanting. The author argues that just as slow-food is much higher in quality compared to the fast-food, so is slow-media. It invites us to explore both sides of stories accurately, instead of making us overly emotional.
As a final note, for those who are afraid of missing out, it would be good to hear what Carl has to say: “Instead of fearing missing out on what is out there, maybe we should be fearing missing out on what could have developed in us if we have been more intentional about how we use our technology.”