The need for Digital Minimalism

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The need for Digital Minimalism

Sainath Ramanathan's photo
Sainath Ramanathan
·Oct 13, 2020·

8 min read

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We are in an era where everything that we use is an app to ease our life. We have many apps to satiate our needs and make our life seamless and hassle-free. It frees us from waiting in a long queue to get a movie ticket, pays the bill, orders food, reserves a flight ticket, etc and the list goes on. This is a commendable achievement by the intelligent companies and the team of engineers that made it possible. So now we are free from all the mundane activities that kept us engaged and it created a vicious gap that left our brains unoccupied.

The Gap

Organizations often use the term automation which means a predefined system will do a repeated activity without involving a human. This was done mainly to free us from doing repetitive things and make us exploratory and creative to concentrate on better pursuits. The purpose of automation was going well until the age of the internet was born. The internet started to revolutionize the industry across all the sectors and positioned itself as an elixir of business. It didn’t stop there and gave rise to a shiny little handset that was truly wireless with a sim card that enables us to call or text anyone across the world but later it has reformed itself to what we now call it as an essential element of our life without which we can’t survive. At the beginning of the post, I mentioned the conveniences that few apps have offered but there is a flip side about which we are going to discuss further.

Attention Economy

The average number of apps that are fed to the Android’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store is increasing day by day which aims in increasing the user’s convenience but there are a few which are mainly tailored to seek our attention and make us spend the rest of the day in it. Social media as a platform is huge and mind-blowing but its effect is detrimental.

If something’s free, that means you’re the product

Imagine a trading application that is so beneficial to us where it can give us advanced analytics and calculate the precise return of investment having run through billions of market data and enables us to pick up the right stock (which is insanely not possible but just for imagination). Will they give it to us for free? Absolutely not, and we got to pay for it and enjoy the benefits but think of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other conglomerates, they offer us a plethora of services for free without even charging and how did they become the top companies in the world without even getting paid? obviously, through Ad revenues. The app is devised in a way that keeps us informed about our interests 📰, reactions to the photos that we posted by throwing likes 👍 and hearts ❤️, popularizing the status message that we wrote 📈, and trending the comment 💬 that made people laugh or think about. In-between all this, they embed an ad that could possibly fetch them millions of dollars. This is now becoming the new norm of all the app developers and they tend to focus on how to engineer our attention.

Next time when someone says that social media is a knife and it is up to us how we use it, deny them as it is not our discretion but the company’s business model to make us use their app. When we go back to 2010, it was a period where social media was booming as everybody was visiting the Facebook or Twitter website as a means to connect with their friends and families. It was not a concern then as we used these applications online through a desktop or a laptop with specific intentions to check our nephew’s newborn baby picture, publish and share a blog or an article that we wrote, connect with our school friends, etc. which all happened in a stipulated time. Our mobile phones then were limited to make calls and text. It didn’t have the capacity to lure you in other than the snake game in Nokia 1100 feature phone.

The more we stay on the social media app on our phones, the more they try to monetize by showing us relevant ads that we might be interested and this is the reason that they make it so interesting with rich content that we immerse ourself with the phone which never makes us feel lonely. This has subverted in-person conversations and made us more connected by means of emojis and gifs which invariantly killed boredom.

Sabotage of Boredom

There was a time where complete strangers standing in a queue for paying the telephone bill ended up as friends playing badminton every Sunday. It used to be a marvelous sight to observe a dog being walked by its owner and the lovely birds sharing food with their group while we are waiting to board the bus. This all happens now in the form of a video that is shared on these social media platforms.

Being bored turns your mind inward and encourages reflection. When you’re rushing about, there’s no time to think. When you’re bored, there’s nothing else to do but think.

Source: The Guardian

There are numerous articles that explain the value of boredom and it is always subverted by the use of social media apps. Boredom is essential to think and make better decisions. A scientist or an accountant working on a serious problem will prefer to spend time alone with their thoughts to contemplate and find a perfect solution rather if they spend their think time in social media or any manipulative apps will drain their energy and make the problem unsolved leaving a residue behind.

Rewards and Feedback Loop

The basic working methodology behind these social media apps is to give a response to what we think and what we like in terms of reward. It is a social approval indicator that gave birth to likes 👍 and hearts ❤️ which in-turn triggers our brain to crave more for likes. This industry exploits us by employing attention engineers from the casinos whose expertise is to not let you go out of the game and get you addicted to shelling out money at the casinos. Think of the extent to which they have gone to make us retain using the app for uninterrupted hours. Every time when you click the like button or a heart, it will let the algorithm know that you are interested in a specific topic or a person or genre and keeps you engaged with all related recommendations that have a higher chance of possibility that you will like it and not let you go out of the app. On the flip side, this will also give a reward ❤️ to the intended person who will crave more such likes and keeps posting content thereby making you stuck in an infinite loop.

Remedies

Constant nudging by these social media platforms will cause harmful effects in the long-run and there are steps to prevent yourself from falling to this.

  1. Remove social media apps from your phone. If you are a consumer and don’t have any professional reasons to use the app on your phone, delete the app without any second thought.
  2. Take a 30-day break from all the optional apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, News, Youtube, Games, etc. During this period try to understand what values are you deriving from these apps. This can be applicable to any app that you consider as attention-seeking.
  3. During this break try to fill the gap with hobbies and engaging activities like playing, workout, reading books, visiting relatives and friends, learning a new skill, cleaning your house, etc.
  4. Utilities like Google Meet, Zoom, Duo, or Whatsapp calls can be used to connect and spend time with your dear ones.
  5. Messengers like Whatsapp, Telegram, Slack can be distracting and attention-seeking but if your business or profession depends on it, you can use it as a tool to address it and make sure you intend to use it only as a tool to enable a conversation. For example, you may connect with your friends in the Whatsapp group and tell them that you are available for a video call at said time and they can hop in for a conversation or you may send a message to a friend asking for their email id to send your idea with a detailed document attached which can be picked anytime by your friend for a review rather than prolonging the conversation in the messenger.
  6. At the end of the 30-day sabbath, you can plan to re-introduce the apps that are optional but not straightaway to your phone rather look for options to use if from your desktop. For example, if you have your business that depends on posting your works on Instagram, you can use the desktop version just to post the content and reply to the queries. This way it makes you not getting stuck in the rabbit-hole of never-ending infinite content feed.
  7. If you definitely need to use some of the apps for your work on your phone, make sure that you turn off the notifications and visit only if you need to and not by the notifications.
  8. Sweep your home screen and have only essential apps that you use like phone, message, camera, maps, and hide the optional apps away from your immediate visibility.
  9. Stick to the purpose you are using the app and make it a habit to come out of it quickly.

After a period of 30-days, we will refrain from using social media and would probably delete the account knowing that it doesn’t give any value. The concerns about the social media mentioned in this article are very limited. There are some serious issues with respect to data privacy and social anxiety which was not covered here but would urge you to read further on those topics. I have provided some interesting books and videos below to further read and understand about the topic in large.

📚 ‘Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World’ by Cal Newport

📚 ‘How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life’ by Catherine Price

📺 Quit social media | Dr. Cal Newport | TEDxTysons

📺 The Social Dilemma

📺 Your phone is trying to control your life

📺 Jaron Lanier interview on how social media ruins your life

 
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