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Quit social media | Dr. Cal Newport | TEDxTysons


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Translator: Peter van de Ven Reviewer: Denise RQ You probably don't realize that right now, you're actually looking at something quite rare Because I am a millennial computer scientist book author standing on a TEDx stage, and yet, I've never had a account

How this happened was actually somewhat random Social media first came onto my radar when I was at college, my sophomore year of college, this is when Facebook arrived at our campus And at the time, which was right after the first dotcom bust, I had had a dorm room business, I'd had to shut it down in the bust, and then, suddenly, this other kid from Harvard, named Mark, had this product called Facebook and people being excited about it So in sort of a fit of somewhat immature professional jealousy, I said, "I'm not going to use this thing I won't help this kid's business; whatever's going to amount to

" As I go along my life, I look up not long later, and I see everyone I know is hooked on this thing And from the clarity you can get when you have some objectivity, some perspective on it, I realized this seems a little bit dangerous So I never signed up I've never had a social media account since So I'm here for two reasons; I want to deliver two messages

The first message I want to deliver is that even though I've never had a social media account, I'm OK, you don't have to worry It turns out I still have friends, I still know what's going on in the world; as a computer scientist I still collaborate with people all around the world, I'm still regularly exposed serendipitously to interesting ideas, and I rarely describe myself as lacking entertainment options So I've been OK, but I'd go even farther and say not only I am OK without social media but I think I'm actually better off I think I'm happier, I think I find more sustainability in my life, and I think I've been more successful professionally because I don't use social media So my second goal here on stage is try to convince more of you to believe the same thing

Let's see if I could actually convince more of you that you too would be better off if you social media So, if the theme of this TEDx event is "Future Tense," I guess, in other words, this would be my vision of the future, would be one in which fewer people actually use social media That's a big claim, I think I need to back it up So I thought, what I would do is take the three most common objections I hear when I suggest to people that they social media, and then for each of these objections, I'll try to defuse the hype and see if I can actually push in some more reality This is the first most common objection I hear

That's not a hermit, that's actually a hipster web developer down from 8th Street; I'm not sure Hipster or hermit? Sometimes it's hard to tell This first objection goes as follows, ", social media is one of the fundamental technologies of the 21st century To reject social media would be an act of extreme [bloodism] It would be like riding to work on a horse or using a rotary phone

I can't take such a big stance in my life" My reaction to that objection is I think that is nonsense Social media is not a fundamental technology It leverages some fundamental technologies, but it's better understood as this Which is to say, it's a source of entertainment, it's an entertainment product

The way that technologist Jaron Lanier puts it is that these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bites of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold So to say that you don't use social media should not be a large social stance, it's just rejecting one form of entertainment for others There should be no more controversial than saying, "I don't like newspapers, I like to get my news from magazines," or "I prefer to watch cable series, as opposed to network television series" It's not a major political or social stance to say you don't use this product My use of the slot machine image up here also is not accidental because if you look a little bit closer at these technologies, it's not just that they're a source of entertainment but they're a somewhat unsavory source of entertainment

We now know that many of the major social media companies hire individuals called attention engineers, who borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling, among other places, to try to make these products as addictive as possible That is the desired use case of these products: is that you use it in an addictive fashion because that maximizes the profit that can be extracted from your attention and data So it's not a fundamental technology, it's just a source of entertainment, one among many, and it's somewhat unsavory if you look a little bit closer Here's the second common objection I hear when I suggest that people quit social media The objection goes as follows, "Cal, I can't quit social media because it is vital to my success in the 21st century economy

If I do not have a well-cultivated social media brand, people won't know who I am, people won't be able to find me, opportunities won't come my way, and I will effectively disappear from the economy" Again my reaction is once again: this objection also is nonsense I recently published this book that draws on multiple different strands of evidence to make the point that, in a competitive 21st century economy, what the market values is the ability to produce things that are rare and are valuable If you produce something that's rare and valuable, the market will value that What the market dismisses, for the most part, are activities that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value

Well, social media use is the epitome of an easy to replicate activity that doesn't produce a lot of value; it's something that any six-year-old with a smartphone can do By definition, the market is not going to give a lot of value to those behaviors It's instead going to reward the deep, concentrated work required to build real skills and to apply those skills to produce things – like a craftsman – that are rare and that are valuable To put it another way: if you can write an elegant algorithm, if you can write a legal brief that can change a case, if you can write a thousand words of prose that's going to fixate a reader right to the end; if you can look at a sea of ambiguous data and apply statistics, and pull out insights that could transform a business strategy, if you can do these type of activities which require deep work, that produce outcomes that are rare and valuable, people will find you You will be able to write your own ticket, and build the foundation of a meaningful and successful professional life, regardless of how many Instagram followers you have

This is the third comment objection I hear when I suggest to people that they quit social media; in some sense, I think it might be one of the most important This objection goes as follows, "Cal, maybe I agree, maybe you're right; it's not a fundamental technology Maybe using social media is not at the core of my professional success But, you know what? It's harmless, I have some fun on it – weird: Twitter's funny – I don't even use it that much, I'm a first adopter, it's kind of interesting to try it out, and maybe I might miss out something if I don't use it What's the harm?" Again, I look back and I say: this objection also is nonsense

In this case, what it misses is what I think is a very important reality that we need to talk about more frankly, which is that social media brings with it multiple, well-documented, and significant harms We actually have to confront these harms head-on when trying to make decisions about whether or not we embrace this technology and let it into our lives One of these harms that we know this technology brings has to do with your professional success I just argued before that the ability to focus intensely, to produce things that are rare and valuable, to hone skills the market place value on, that this is what will matter in our economy But right before that, I argued that social media tools are designed to be addictive

The actual designed desired-use case of these tools is that you fragment your attention as much as possible throughout your waking hours; that's how these tools are designed to use We have a growing amount of research which tells us that if you spend large portions of your day in a state of fragmented attention – large portions of your day, breaking up your attention, to take a quick glance, to just check, – "Let me quickly look at Instagram" – that this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration In other words, you could permanently reduce your capacity to do exactly the type of deep effort that we're finding to be more and more necessary in an increasingly competitive economy So social media use is not harmless, it can actually have a significant negative impact on your ability to thrive in the economy I'm especially worried about this when we look at the younger generation, which is the most saturated in this technology

If you lose your ability to sustain concentration, you're going to become less and less relevant to this economy There's also psychological harms that are well documented that social media brings, that we do need to address We know from the research literature that the more you use social media, the more likely you are to feel lonely or isolated We know that the constant exposure to your friends carefully curated, positive portrayals of their life can leave you to feel inadequate, and can increase rates of depression And something I think we're going to be hearing more about in the near future is that there's a fundamental mismatch between the way our brains are wired and this behavior of exposing yourself to stimuli with intermittent rewards throughout all of your waking hours

It's one thing to spend a couple of hours at a slot machine in Las Vegas, but if you bring one with you, and you pull that handle all day long, from when you wake up to when you go to bed: we're not wired from it It short-circuits the brain, and we're starting to find it has actual cognitive consequences, one of them being this sort of pervasive background hum of anxiety The canary in the coal mine for this issue is actually college campuses If you talk to mental health experts on college campuses, they'll tell you that along with the rise of ubiquitous smartphone use and social media use among the students on the campus, came an explosion of anxiety-related disorders on those campuses That's the canary in the coal mine

This type of behavior is a mismatch for our brain wiring and can make you feel miserable So there's real cost to social media use; which means when you're trying to decide, "Should I use this or not?", saying it's harmless is not enough You actually have to identify a significantly positive, clear benefit that can outweigh these potential, completely non-trivial harms People often ask, "OK, but what is life like without social media?" That can actually be a little bit scary to think about According to people who went through this process, there can be a few difficult weeks

It actually is like a true detox process The first two weeks can be uncomfortable: you feel a little bit anxious, you feel like you're missing a limb But after that, things settle down, and actually, life after social media can be quite positive There's two things I can report back from the world of no social media use First, it can be quite productive

I'm a professor at a research institution, I've written five books, I rarely work past 5 pm on a weekday Part of the way I'm trying to able to pull that off is because it turns out, if you treat your attention with respect, – so you don't fragment it; you allow it to stay whole, you preserve your concentration – when it comes time to work you can do one thing after another, and do it with intensity, and intensity can be traded for time It's surprising how much you can get done in a eight-hour day if you're able to give each thing intense concentration after another Something else I can report back from life without social media is that outside of work, things can be quite peaceful I often joke I'd be very comfortable being a 1930s farmer, because if you look at my leisure time, I read the newspaper while the sun comes up; I listen to baseball on the radio; I honest-to-god sit in a leather chair and read hardcover books at night after my kids go to bed

It sounds old-fashioned, but they were onto something back then It's actually a restorative, peaceful way to actually spend your time out of work You don't have the constant hum of stimuli, and the background hum of anxiety that comes along with that So life without social media is really not so bad If you pull together these threads, you see my full argument that not everyone, but certainly much more people than right now, much more people should not be using social media

That's because we can first, to summarize, discard with the main concerns that it's a fundamental technology you have to use Nonsense: it's a slot machine in your phone We can discard with this notion that you won't get a job without it Nonsense: anything a six-year-old with a smartphone can do is not going to be what the market rewards And then I emphasized the point that there's real harms with it

So it's not just harmless You really would have to have a significant benefit before you would say this trade-off is worth it Finally I noted, that life without social media: there's real positives associated with it So I'm hoping that when many of you actually go through this same calculus, you'll at least consider the perspective I'm making right now, which is: many more people would be much better off if they didn't use this technology Some of you might disagree, some of you might have scathing but accurate critiques of me and my points, and of course, I welcome all negative feedback

I just ask that you direct your comments towards Twitter Thank you (Applause)

Source: Youtube

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