30. Why you need a philosophy on your digital use now

Uncategorized Jun 20, 2020

Like the food environment we live in, our digital environment is stacked against us. 

It's like you're playing against the house. And given long enough, the house always wins. 

Our food environment is obesogenic. That means it causes obesity. Overly processed foods and food products designed to be addictive as well as marketed to kids are just a few ways the powers that be stack the deck in their favor. 

Similarly, the tech giants have effectively created a new economical model centered around one thing: our attention. 

The 'attention economy' has emerged with the surge in popularity of social media and smart phones.

Basically, the longer and more frequently big tech can keep us checking our phones the more advertising space they can sell with proof of "look how much our users are looking at their screen when using our platform." 

Companies eat this up and as a result advertising spend on social media platforms alone reached 32 billion dollars in the US in 2019. 

What will more of a shift in our attention from the real world to a screen do to us?

Long term we don't know yet but in just ten years since the explosion of smartphone and social media use rates of mental disorders have sky rocketed as well as notable changes in people's ability to have a conversation, enjoy the moment, and de stress. 

My growing reliance on smart phones and digital interaction began to concern me. I was becoming increasingly less attentive and felt irritable. Most notably I wrote 'the pull of habit to my phone and social media is strong' when I was in one of the most scenic places I've ever been on vacation. 

So I read a book called Digital Minimalism which I recommend to all of my clients and return to often. In it Cal Newport proposes an essentialist philosophy be applied to digital use. In short, only use technology that aligns with your values and that does jobs better than you could do on your own. Ignore everything else so you can return to more non digital life.

I love his suggestions and have modified my philosophy on tech use with each reading. 

Cal says digital clutter is costly. We clutter our phones with a bunch of apps we use for the small benefit they provide. That clutter is more costly to manage than the little benefits they provide.

So what should you do? Choose which apps you allow on your phone based off whether they serve a valuable purpose and are the best option for that job.

Facebook messenger is great. So are text messages. Email has been popular too. Guess what, they all do the same thing.

It's not uncommon for us to have multiple apps that all do the same thing but just a little bit differently. Know that different doesn't equal better and that is the benchmark you should use in determining what stays and what goes. In this instance, which messenger app do you think is the best for connecting you to those you need to talk to?

Pick that one, or maybe one for friends and family and one for work and delete the others. Less apps equal less debilitating clutter. And now when you're confronted with whether to start using the new messaging app your neighbor is using because it's new you can confidently decline saying "I already have an app for that." 

De-cluttering your digital space is huge. So is spending time alone. 

Being constantly available and connected is ruining one of the simplest human pleasures: solitude. 

In the years before smart phones and social media it was not uncommon for kids to break from their peers Friday after school and not interact again until Monday. Hell, even adults have forgotten the work week ends and extend their availability to their leisure and home time. This mistake is killing us by setting us up for failure. We were never meant to be 'always on' and never will. Yet for millions that pull is being reinforced every time they reach for their phone. Which research shows to be close to 100 times times a day. 

I know a bunch of people who feel the fear of missing out when they are away from their phones for a bit. As if the emails, pings, and messages coming in were all emergencies needing to be tended to as soon as they arise. First off, that's not possible no matter how efficient you think you are with a phone in your hand. Secondly, believing you should be '24/7' fires up your CNS as if you were constantly being threatened by real world threats, not just messages popping up on a screen. This is exhausting. 

Newport suggests leisure time without technology and makes the case for a return to privacy. 

When the weekend rolls around hang up the connection to work. Think of what it would be like to be unavailable again instead of open to returning a message whenever anyone sends one. 

Being alone, unconnected, and unavailable are rich human experiences that restore us. Unfortunately they are becoming less and less common as we become more and more connected. 

The last suggestion I want to give by way of Newport again is to stop clicking like and commenting. 

These two actions feel like the same thing as calling someone and telling them you liked their vacation pictures or new baby but they aren't. We are social creatures by nature and this explains why the pull of social media is strong. The difference is we have evolved to be social in proximity to each other - in space where we can read gestures and hear tonality we are much happier than when we try to do the same through a message or button click. 

Instead of liking and commenting you should call and sit down with that person. This may seem trivial but the outcomes to yours and that persons relationship and your happiness can't be under stated. It's how we were meant to interact. 

You may think these suggestions will lead to you losing touch. Quite the opposite is likely to happen. You will feel more connected than ever when you adopt a specific philosophy on your digital use and de clutter your apps, get back to unconnected private time, and face to face conversation. 


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