January 23, 2022

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A Famous Tech Expert Says You Should Quit Social Media. Not So Fast There

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A famous professor and book author named Cal Newport is still arguing, after his popular TED talk from a few years ago and with a new book about the dangers of email out now, that you should quit social media.

He seems to advocate for deleting your account forever, never going back, skipping the entire social media space including apps like Facebook and Twitter.

In listening to his argument, the reasons are relatively sound. He doesn’t see the value, and views apps like Facebook as mere distractions.

Unfortunately, I view this argument as woefully flawed.

First of all, hats off to Newport who has written some excellent books. He makes some good points about distraction and how social media companies are using these apps to feed us ads that line their pocketbooks. We’re endpoints for advertising, nothing more.

My issue is that quitting social media is a recipe for disaster. For starters, quitting is not the same as controlling. As someone who has recently studied the productivity field these last two years and is about to release a book about how to be more purposeful in our work, I can say that there is some value in the apps, and quitting them doesn’t work anyway. In a workplace setting, it’s all but impossible not to use social media, even if it is keeping up on the company feed, commenting on posts, and using the social media chat features.

More importantly, quitting social media means you are not aware of how people are using the apps and finding new benefits. I’ve long maintained that social media is an excellent way to keep in touch with family members, especially those that live overseas. The apps allow us to stay in touch and build a community with others using digital tools.

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And, honestly, that’s really all they are is tools. We can use them for positive purposes or we can get sucked into the void and choose to let distraction rule over us.

A more measured approach, one that limits how often we use the apps and for how long, works better because it teaches us to throttle how we use every digital tool, not just the ones that are the most compelling. When we figure out how to use social media tools effectively, we can apply those same concepts to other apps such as email clients.

More than anything, I worry about the “cold turkey” approach because people eventually get sucked back into using the apps. “I’m deleting my account” says the person who is not able to control usage, and hasn’t dealt with a tendency to overuse the apps. A few weeks or months later, that person is back using the app again, maybe even more than ever before. 

So how do you control usage? My approach to this issue is not to delete anything, but to find the value and purpose in what you are doing, and then to set limits on how long you use the apps. For example, if you find yourself using Instagram for an hour or two per day, that is heavy usage. The answer is not to delete your account. A better way to deal with that obsession is to time yourself and keep track of what you are actually doing, to set goals for what you want to accomplish. Tell yourself — I am going to only read 10 posts during one session and then, when I reach that last post, I’ll close out of the app. It works much better. In some ways, learning to control how you use social media apps is a gift because then you can learn to control other things.

My challenge is for you to try that. Set a time limit or choose how many posts you’ll read or comments you’ll make. Don’t delete the app, but find the value and benefit that works for you. If you do decide to limit your usage somehow, send me an email ([email protected]) about how that proved effective for you in controlling how you use these digital tools.

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