Kill All Your (Digital) Friends

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I am currently reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, which is a wonderful book which I highly recommend. On a whole, it is very much concerned with something that has come to the forefront of my mind in the last two years – quality over quantity.

One area in particular where this is a huge issue, is social media services, and he has devoted a chapter to it, quitting it, or most of it.

Its worth a read even if you don’t find my explanation compelling, I can’t do it justice in a few paragraphs, but he uses some excellent examples of modern, successful people that have explicitly decided not to use it because the trade off is not worth it to them. I’m sure you can point to a few who use it regularly, but personally I really think they are the exception not the rule, and either have a press team or do not use social media in the same way that you or I would.

He says that if you really want to do something amazing, some sort of work that is worth something, you need the ability to focus and think deeply. Social media is not only the antithesis of this because it preys on your ability to be distracted, but will also in the long run, actively work against your brain’s ability to do deep work.

To do deep work, your brain MUST become accustomed to NOT being entertained, but still constrained to and focused on the task at hand. I feel I must do something about this for myself, not because I use social media excessively or as much as others, but because I know every time I use it, I am telling my brain that it is allowed to be distracted by trivial things, and this must stop.

I have decided to start with a culling of people I follow inside the services themselves, and then to take a break from the services for a period of time. It’s hard to unfollow people that I know and like, so the criteria I am going to use for keeping them are:

  1. People that I engage with the most
  2. People that have used the service within the last month

That way even if I do come back to some of them, the experience will be very different and not as distracting.

The services that occupy my time in order of time spent:

  1. Twitter
  2. Instagram
  3. Facebook
  4. LinkedIn

Twitter: My favorite thing about Twitter is being able to choose who and what comes through my feed. I also feel like I can justify unfollowing people that I know but don’t use the service frequently. Rather than try to moderate this service, I’m just going to quit it for a few weeks.

Instagram: Some of my favorite people that I know post things that I really like on Instagram. I’ve culled it already. I usually cull my Instagram follows on a regular basis as my interests change from over 200 to under 200, but this time I went down from around 150 followed to only 23.

Facebook: The primary reason I haven’t quit Facebook is that its nice as a platform for having a conversation with my family about family photos, that’s it. There is probably something worth talking about once every month, and this should be a warning sign.

Here’s what I “have to” endure every day and sift through to get that small bit of value once a month:

  1. Hundreds of viral news articles of funny but worthless anecdotes and videos of cats and dogs, and a menagerie of other cute animals and children.
  2. Hundreds of old news articles shared as if they happened this morning.
  3. Photos and life events from people that I don’t speak to anymore, and probably never will. This becomes incredibly apparent once you move countries as I have. I even realize now many of the people I’ve met since arriving in New Zealand I will probably not see again.
  4. Photos and life events from my family, very extended family (people I haven’t seen in 15 years or longer), my ex-wife’s family, my ex-wife’s extended family, my girlfriend’s family, friends of my friends, friends from high school, and other people that I may have spoken to once in my lifetime.

Life is short. If I look at it from the point of view of VALUE, I would be much better off having a proper conversation with family members and friends that I very much like and want to spend time with on a regular basis,even for a few minutes as opposed to just being bombarded with trivial and worthless things in their and everyone else’s lives.

I have no doubt that Facebook is an excellent place to work full of incredibly smart people, but Facebook itself is incredibly low value for someone’s life. This is the key to this chapter of the book, to focus on high value, not just some value.

Even Facebook’s company purpose “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” is meaningless. The world is not open and connected where dictatorial governments impose restrictions on information, and in these places Facebook is not free to operate. In countries where there are no such restrictions, people don’t need to be more connected, they need to live better and more balanced lives.

LinkedIn: Ahh, the social network where most of your contacts are recruiters. I’m not sure what to do about LinkedIn. I want an online presence that is somewhat professional. Not that I really use LinkedIn anyway, I just get pinged from time to time by someone trying to get me to apply for a job that I am not interested in or know nothing about.

Ideally, a much better and worthwhile professional online presence would be a personal website (this one) with a bio & resume. Network with past colleagues over a beer or coffee has yielded much more promising career prospects.

In that case I now realise LinkedIn is of very little value at all to me.

Appendix A: Compromise

I can see how it would be possible to compromise rather well, by unfollowing or removing ALL sources of noise within the service, and then perhaps turning on email notifications for just those specific people that you want to engage with. Have all the emails filtered so that they don’t show up in your inbox, and then check the filter once a week/month. But this works so hard to circumvent how these services are built, that it would just be better to find some other way to engage with these people online.

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