I put the ice cold beer to my lips. The glass left a wet circle on the oak table. I smiled at my mother, the deep orange sunset was reflected in her sunglasses.
Then my hand reached for my phone.
I took a picture of the sunset.
Then I opened Snapchat and took another one. Then I took one with the beer in the foreground. Delete. Then I took a selfie. Delete. Then I thought maybe a short video might do the occasion more justice. And I should probably use a geo-tag to show everyone I’m in Uruguay. I wanted my message to be clear: “This is not a just another sunset. This is a Uruguayan sunset.”
Although I was not sure if I should have my mother in the video. Maybe I seem more interesting enjoying the sunset and beer alone. And the fact that I’m in Uruguay, of course. A true adventurer.
But what if I appear lonely? Just me and a beer and a sunset. What a loser. But then again, maybe it will intrigue people?
Maybe it’s kind of cool to share that I am sharing this moment with my mother. Ten years ago it might have been social suicide to share such a thing. But now I’m older. When does it become cool to hang out with your parents? Does it ever?
I decided to snap a photo of the cat sleeping by the pool.
And then, finally, I decided to stop the madness.
How Social Media Kills You
Social media seems harmless. Just a few minutes here and there. It’s not, though.
Here is why.
You Lose Presence
Ever found yourself zoning out while listening to a friend over coffee? Maybe they spoke about something that wasn’t very interesting.
We can’t blame our friends though, it’s hard to compete with the dopamine you get from checking your phone.
It might not seem like a big deal. Zoning out for a bit. Checking a few Instagram photos while the friend is getting to the point.
But, you can’t live a good life without being present. You can’t enjoy food without being present. You can’t smell the rain without being present. You can’t have a meaningful conversation without being present.
I’ve been using my cellphone 100 times a day for long periods of time. That is not the behavior of a present person, nor of a particularly happy one.
And the habit of constantly consuming dopamine snacks has more negative effects.
You Can’t Do Deep Work
When do you pick up your phone?
Only when it rings or pings?
If you’re like me, you check your phone much more. I check my phone every time I’m bored. Not super bored. Like, one-second-bored.
- I get bored when my computer is starting up.
- I get bored while the teabag sits in the hot water.
- I get bored when I walk from my desk to the kitchen.
- I get bored during the second between waking up and hitting the snooze button.
- I get bored while watching shows.
- I get bored while reading books.
- I get bored out of my mind trying to write this.
And I check my phone every time.
If you stimulate the brain every time you encounter something that is boring you start a habit. An addiction.
Deep Work is the name of a book by Cal Newport. Deep work can only occur from long uninterrupted periods of time.
Your brain wants a small reward to keep on going. Just a fast look at the inbox. Just a peek to see if there are any red notifications who wants my attention.
To do deep work we must learn to be bored.
You Fill Your Brain With Crap
Using the phone a few minutes here and there adds up.
According to an article in business Insider we spend 50 minutes a day on Facebook (Including Instagram and Messenger).
Another article states that Snapchat users spend 30 minutes a day on their app.
That means that Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Messenger costs about 80 minutes a day.
Extrapolating from the rule that 90% of everything is crap: We are consuming 36 hours of crap every month.
A common objection to this is “But I only use social media in-between activities”.
That is, while waiting for the elevator, commuting and so forth.
For me, however, the problem is the total amount of garbage that I consume. I don’t want to spend more time reading click-bates on Facebook than reading good books.
I think it’s reasonable to ask ourselves how these 36 hours compare to other activities in our every day life.
How does it compare to how many hours of reading you are doing? And hours of talking to friends? Hours of playing?
How does these 36 hours contribute to getting you closer to what you want in life?
Why Not Stop All Social Media?
I’ve spent the past 815 words bashing social media like it’s the devil. The ultimate evil. So, how come I’m not advocating we all should burn our smartphones, move to the deep forest, buy typewriters and start sending letters all over the place?
There are many people promoting that we all should stop using social media. No Facebook, no Snapchat no Instagram. Ever.
Google returns 188 000 000 results for the search “how stop social media”.
With that said, how many people do you know that don’t use any social media?
How many of them are under 70 years old?
Trying to quit social media is probably not a bad idea. But it’s an awful strategy.
Trying to quit is basically going to war against the tens of thousands of engineers and behavior scientists at Google, Facebook and Snapchat.
The apps, sites and even phones are carefully designed to HOOK us. And there are powerful network effects:
Even if you manage to quit you will soon have friends telling you “You have to RSVP to my event on Facebook” and “I told you I was going to be late on Snapchat!”.
These companies have millions of sales people. Everyone you know work for them. Their job is to make you open that app and start consuming your feed.
Because of this, it’s not realistic nor optimal to quit social media.
Even though I’m skeptical towards social media, there are quite a few people using it (I’m not holding my breath for this article to change that fact).
For example, Facebook has 1,72 BILLION active users.
The reach, combined with the relatively low costs makes social media one of the most effective channels to acquire users, readers and customers.
About 70 percent of my (super modest) blog traffic comes from social media. Just starting out, the social media channels are invaluable for me.
Talking to people you like
According to Global Web Index and Wersm the reason most people are on social media is to “stay in touch with friends”.
There is no easier way to check in on your friends than social media.
Social media gives a unique possibility of “light networking”. You don’t have to formulate anything. Just click “like” and you’ve been social. You’ve “kept in touch”.
While these interactions might be shallow, maybe they are better than nothing?
And maybe they can be the start of more intimate relationships?
How Should You Use Social Media?
So the conclusion is that social media sometimes suck and sometimes doesn’t.
Now, what can we do with that information?
The way to optimize social media usage must then be to minimize the parts that suck and maximize the parts that are good.
I suggest to do this in 3 steps.
Be Proactive (Not Reactive)
Stop mindlessly browsing feeds. Remove notifications from your phone. Take control over your time and how you use your apps. Decide who you want to have in your life and reach out to them.
It’s easy to get stuck in the feed while writing to someone, sharing a post or writing an update.
There are useful tools to automatically share a blog post, for example, on all your social media channels.
Another option is to use a service like fiverr or odesk and find someone who can do this for you.
Uninstall, uninstall, uninstall.
Remove all of the apps that you use reactivate. I’ve uninstalled Snapchat, Facebook and LinkedIn.
I kept Messenger, Whatsapp and Instagram. Those are the ones I find easy to use on my own terms.
I’ve felt disgusted with the amount of time and energy I’ve spent on my phone the last year.
I want to “cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process”, as Joshua Waitzkin puts it.
I want to spend more time on things that are beautiful and interesting. And less time feeling bad for not climbing mountains.
And maybe next year I’ll be able to take a photo of a sunset in peace. Or a beer. Or both. Or maybe I’ll just shoot the damn cat again.