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Deep Work ICM501

Cutting Back and Taking Charge

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Lately, it feels like I’ve been more distracted and consumed by social media than ever before. I’m normally not someone who gets sucked in so easily, but between the pandemic, national civil unrest, and the upcoming election, these days I can’t help but check Instagram and Facebook obsessively for any “breaking news.” It feels like a total distraction that’s zapping away at my emotional and mental energy, but yet somehow I just. can’t. stop. 

My actions nor the negative feelings it causes wouldn’t come as a surprise to the engineers of social media because this is the exact behavior they coded into their programs. My struggle is their success. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are intentionally designed to build habits that keep users online and coming back regularly. The more time we spend on these social media outlets, the more data these companies collect on us, and sell to advertisers. My time lost is their money gained.

It’s not only my time and mental exhaustion I’ve become concerned with but also the lack of quality information I am absorbing. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 1 in 5 American adults in 2019 stated that they received their news primarily from social media. The research also showed that people who receive their news from social media are less knowledgeable about social and political news than those who acquire their information from traditional, more credible news sources[1]. Too much misinformation exists on these platforms, and too many people are relying on them for their “news.” 

Image Source: Pew Research Center. https://www.journalism.org/2020/07/30/americans-who-mainly-get-their-news-on-social-media-are-less-engaged-less-knowledgeable/

With this information in mind, I am moving forward by making some small but mighty adjustments to my life. 

For starters, its time to delete these apps from my phone. In Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, he explains that “the smartphone versions of these (social media) services are much adept at hijacking your attention than the versions accessed through a web browser on your laptop and desktop computer.[2]” Since our phones are always on us, its easy to allow social media to steal our attention at any dull moment for the sake of distraction. Well, not anymore. From now on, I’ll access social media from my laptop only and take those previous dull moments as an opportunity to sit still and breathe. 

I’ll also be adopting a slow media approach. This idea was first introduced by three Germans in 2010 in a manifesto titled “Das Slow Media Manifest.”[3] This suggestion resonated with me and my impulse to follow all “breaking news” at all times. Embracing slow media is about quality vs. quantity when it comes to the news we consume. It encourages us to be more proactive about what we read by considering the sources and their credibility, and not falling into the traps of social media misinformation. Newport suggests that by following his recommendations to news consumption that you can “remain informed about current events and up to speed on big ideas in the spaces you care most about. But you will also accomplish this without sacrificing your time and emotional health to the frantic cycle of clicking that defines so many people’s experience of the news.” This couldn’t have described my current habits better—which made it only that much more clear how important these changes will be moving forward. 

I’m hoping that by taking these two small steps, I’ll release the exhaustion I’ve been carrying around the past few months, and instead carry a higher sense of value for my time and my knowledge. These issues we are facing are more serious than daytime drama, and I intend to start treating them that way. 

[1] Pew Research Center. (2020, July 30). Americans Who Mainly Get Their News on Social Media Are Less Engaged, Less Knowledgeable. https://www.journalism.org/2020/07/30/americans-who-mainly-get-their-news-on-social-media-are-less-engaged-less-knowledgeable/

[2] Newport, C. (2019). Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Portfolio.

[3] Newport, C. (2019). Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Portfolio.

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