I’d be the first to admit that I was one of the last persons in my circle of friends to join Facebook. I didn’t understand the concept back then in 2007- “why should I join Facebook when I can keep in touch over email?” My friends insisted, and I had finally succumbed. Fast forward to 2019, I wish I hadn’t joined Facebook.
I say this because today, among many other things, when I see friends, they are on their phones more than they want to have a face to face conversation. Since we do all the catching up on Facebook, we have nothing left to say when we meet in person. Social Media has changed the way we all interact with one another. Research has also shown that the more one uses social media, the lonelier and more isolated they become.
However, what’s worse than this is how social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter etc) have been able to manipulate us all. Since these services are free that we signed up for, we are being used as products. For example, Facebook notifications were initially blue in color to match the color of the logo. People weren’t clicking enough on likes, so Facebook decided to change the notifications to a red color to alert the viewers, and sat back watching the number of clicks on the like button skyrocket. BAM! We’ve been successfully manipulated!
In today’s times, social media has become an imperative. If you are not on it, you might as well fall off the face of the planet. Yes, we can stay in touch with friends who are abroad and catch up with their news and all, but at the same times, the smart people behind social media giants are working on ways to keep up hooked (Insta Stories, Facebook Watch).
This is where Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism comes in. We can’t give up social media in its entirety—although Newport himself isn’t on social media!- but we can certainly minimize our use of social media to reflect our beliefs and values. He even offers a 30-day program to help you reclaim your life and take back control of technology.
The book is split into two parts: part one talks about how technology has taken over our lives and what the concept of digital minimalism and digital declutter is. Part two deals with practices that will allow the readers to adopt in order to take back the control of technology.
Newport shares how over the course of his myriad interviews with a large number of people, the one common element between them all is that they are all ‘exhausted.’ With so many different apps on their phones and iPad, they felt mentally exhausted and burdened with an overflow of too much information. This is so true as I myself have met so many people who often talk about the pressure they are under to look and act a certain way on social media thereby leading to exhaustion.
In addition to this, Newport has seen the impact social media has on manipulating the moods- primarily the feeling of developing a strong sense of inadequacy and the “i-am-not-good-enough” comparison factor. Haven’t we all met someone who’s disappointed they haven’t received a certain number of likes on a post? They end up being grumpy and disappointed.
“Every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see ‘what did I get?’” This is the kick one gets from checking their phones. How many likes? How many comments? The need to seek social validation and approval has never been stronger and more evident than ever before. The kick we receive with the positive comments and likes is unbeatable. We crave that. The brains behind the social media giants are extremely clever in devising methods to keep us all hooked- as one person says “the App Store wants your soul.” These techniques are not accidents but “instead carefully engineered design features.”
Human being craves approval from others. We are meant to be connected to each other. We feel better when others approve of us. And what better way to seek this approval but through social media? The like button on Facebook and the heart button on Instagram are some of the most powerful social approval buttons. The flip side, of course, is the lack of approval when we don’t get a certain number of likes or hearts. Technology companies are finding newer and unique ways to keep us hooked on pressing the likes and heart buttons all day long.
Newport is not advocating abandoning social media but instead talks about how we can minimize our time online on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities to strongly support the things we value, and then happily miss out on everything.
The key thing about minimalist is “they start with the things they value the most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.” In other words, the author suggests we go back to assessing what we hold close to our values and beliefs, and then decide whether we want to add on the technology to our lives or not- “is it going to be helpful or is it going to be detrimental.”
While I won’t go into the details, Newport offers detailed advice in four separate chapters: Spend Time Alone, Don’t Click Like, Reclaim Leisure and Join the Attention Resistance. He offers practical suggestions for ways to take back control- some of my favorite ideas are removing social media apps from your phone, leave your phone at home when going to a cinema or restaurant, finding time to pursue other activities and many others.
What Have I Done?
- Removed Social Media apps from my phone (I can access them on my iPad or desktop computer)
- Removed apps like SnapChat (total waste of time)
- Downloaded an app called Moment that tells me how much screen time I have per day. When it told me I spend about 8 hours per day on my phone I was shocked. Thankfully I am now down to 3 hours a day on my phone!
- Avoid taking my phone to cinemas, restaurants, parties so I can have a face to face conversation with friends.
- Minimize my use of Instagram in Lahore, and use it as a travel blog when I travel.
Who Is This Book For?
This book is for those people who want to take back control of their lives from social media. Granted, we can’t abandon social media but we can certainly make better use of it without compromising our values and beliefs.
Again, the emphasis is not on abandoning social media and technology, but rather to take a break for a month (trust me, nothing will happen– I remember my own 6 months digital media fast and I didn’t lose anything except fake friends!)- and then reincorporate technology back into your life that you deem helpful.