In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work he encouraged readers to take a break from social media for thirty days. Newport wrote, “By dropping off these services without notice, you can test the reality of your status as a content producer. For most people and most services, the news might be sobering—no one outside your closest friends and family will likely even notice you’ve signed off.”
I don’t think Newport’s opinions are “curmudgeonly.” Instead, he brings up important topics to consider; partially when I reflect on my increasingly fragmented attention span. Reading Newport’s book again motivated me to reexamine my social media habits. According to Moment—an app that tracks how much you use your iPhone each day—I was spending 2-3 hours a week on Instagram. I find value in services like Instagram, but spending 2-3 hours a week on one app is excessive. Instagram is fun, and a giant personal distraction.
Last year, I conquered my Twitter and Facebook scrolling habits. Now, I’ve turned my attention to Instagram because I’m tired of using the app as a tool to procrastinate. On Wednesday, November 22, 2017, I deleted the Instagram app from my iPhone and decided to take an extended break from social media.
I’m not the only person who struggles with the compulsive need to “check” various social media accounts. In Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia Paul Lewis writes:
There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called ‘continuous partial attention’, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off.
Lewis’s article, academic studies, books, and my recent birthday led to questions about how I use social media. For example, spending 2-3 hours a week on Instagram isn’t on my list of 40 things to do before I turn 40. I love growing older, and the older I grow, I’m more aware of how I spend my time.
In Technology, peace, and sanity, Alexandra Franzen wrote:
A few years ago, I sat down and did some math.
I tallied up how many minutes I was spending on Twitter each day.
Then I multiplied that number by 75 years, because I’m hoping I’ll live that long.
Here’s what I discovered: if I continued using Twitter in the same way, by the end of my life, I would spend 1.8 million minutes of my life on Twitter. That’s 1,250 days. Or, about 3.4 years.
I kept staring at that number — 3.4 years — and I felt sick to my stomach. It didn’t seem possible. But math doesn’t lie. This was the future I was building through my daily choices.
Franzen’s words caused me to sit down and do some math. I came up with similar numbers. I could have written the same paragraph; just substitute Twitter for Instagram in the sentences. When I think about how I can use an extra 2-3 hours a week, a lot of things come to mind (like going to additional CrossFit classes, reading, learning French, napping, going on adventures with Logan, etc.).
Also, it’s worth considering the work of Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Pang is a tech forecaster, a scholar at Stanford, and author. In Bored and Brilliant Manoush Zomorodi, profiled Pang’s work and research. Zomorodi wrote:
On the Zen tech front, Pang discovered a community of Buddhist monks and nuns who are ‘avid social media users.’ They blog, tweet, update their status, and hold online meditation sessions. The mind-set of these modern monks blew him away because they don’t see a division between virtual and physical reality. For them, all realities are the same … Distraction doesn’t come from devices or people or things, they positioned. It is an internal problem.
If my tendency toward distraction and procrastination is an internal issue, then the solution lies within me, too. Pang’s approach to “contemplative computing” inspired me to take a break from social media. Until 2018, I won’t be on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. I haven’t taken an extended break from social media since I wrote my first print book (and that was in 2010)! I’m curious to see how the break will impact me. I won’t be totally offline because I’ll be blogging regularly and sharing updates with patrons.
And last but not least, I’m still taking a daily photo of My Morning View, but I’m not sharing the photo on social media. I’m also pondering whether or not I want to continue my photography project. The five year anniversary of the project is on January 1, 2018, and five years feels like a nice number to end on.
Complement this essay with the following books & articles:
- Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Putting a Finger on Our Phone Obsession: (a study on humans and their tech) via dscout
- Technology, peace, and sanity by Alexandra Franzen
- ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia by Paul Lewis