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Posts tagged Cal Newport
A Digital Declutter: Decisions
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What does it finally feel like to enter back into the world of social media after a 40-day break?

Welp, to be honest, I don’t think most people realized I was gone. It also appears I didn’t miss much of anything (Sorry to that friend who thinks I might have missed something). If I really think about it, it makes sense. With over 1000 friends on Facebook, how many of them do I actually know are active, taking a break, never posting, or posting constantly? If one of my friends left, I probably wouldn’t notice either.

Logging into Facebook I had a lot of missed ‘happy birthday’ notifications. Within minutes, I caught myself getting sucked back into numbly scrolling as well as a desire to log back into it a few minutes after I closed the window. After not checking Facebook for weeks, I checked it seven times within the first hour of logging back into it. I also got pretty riled up after checking one of the clergy groups I’m a member of where there's an endless stream theological debates.

I think being on Facebook for a little over 12 years is more than enough time to be on Facebook for one lifetime. Some of my Facebook friends are actually better as memories than friends and being off Facebook compels me to keep in touch with friends more regularly. I’ve come to think that life is actually better without Facebook.

Twitter welcomed me back with three new followers all of whom I think are spam. One is from India, one has “Jesus” in his handle, and the final one is smoking weed in his avatar. I received two likes on a post the day I left. I didn’t even want to start scrolling and try to read people’s 280 characters. I knew I would get lost in a rabbit hole that would just anger me.

Although I love the speed of Twitter, the ability to connect quickly with others, and to almost instantaneously know of key events as they’re happening, I don’t think it’s a tool that truly adds value to my life. I’m thinking I might call it quits with Twitter, too.

When it came to Instagram, I came back to 5 spam follow requests and a bunch of hearts for my previous posts. Within seconds, I was annoyed at the advertisements every 4-5 posts. To be honest, that will be the deciding factor for me if I keep the app. I also think I am going to mute everyone’s Insta-story, except for my wife’s because she puts up the best videos of our kids and I’m clearly biased.

So, at the moment, I’m going to keep it (I do need to use it for work) as I enjoy seeing pictures of friends and family from afar. Because of this, though, I have unfollowed all businesses, celebrities, brands, and some acquaintances in hopes of streamlining my experience.

I deleted over a dozen apps from my phone for this 40-day declutter and now have no intention of re-downloading them. At present, I have 33 apps on my phone, which is much less than I once had. I’d prefer to delete more, however Apple won’t allow 11 apps too be deleted. I have really enjoyed using my phone less. And, I plan to keep using BlockSite as a way to keep myself productive at work and avoid the temptation to hop on social media or infotainment sites while I could be getting work done.

I’ll also keep up with my blogging and writing as this has given me great joy. To be honest, since I have been less distracted with social media and being tethered to my phone, it’s as if I have become aware of life around me and creating content is much easier and enjoyable.  

I’m trading in likes, retweets, followers, and the pursuit of building a platform for, what I hope will be, more easeful living, better face-to-face relationships, and better productivity in life and work. I’m convinced, though, that it is worth it.

A Digitial Declutter: The Background
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Join me for a trip down social media memory lane.

First, there was Friendster (does anyone else remember that?). I’m pretty sure the site consisted of making a basic profile and finding your friends’ profiles. There was also Xanga, which was one of the first blogging sites. Then came MySpace and the stress of choosing your Top 8.

Once they tanked, though, Facebook came along, which I couldn’t join until I was in graduate school with a .edu email address. All we could do was to speak about ourselves in the third person and ‘poked’ people.

Then Instagram hit the scene and all you could do was post pictures with really bad filters. There were no stories, no DMs, no comments, no ads, and no ownership by Facebook. At about the same time, I signed up for Twitter before hashtags became popular.

Things started to snowball. We moved to Tumblr, Reddit, YouTube, Periscope, Snapchat, Vero (which was popular for a weekend), KIK, Yik Yak, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Medium, and Marco Polo. I’m sure there are countless others that young people are using which I know nothing about.  

It’s barely been 10 years since social media hit the scene. The majority of my life, I didn’t use nor had any need for social media. I had many other forms of media and plenty of space to be social without the use of technology.

But there’s been a shift in how we use and react to social media.

We’re tethered to our devices. Perhaps you could say we are enslaved to them like the podcast episode, A Cellular Exodus, does. Most of us pick up our phones 6-7 times an hour with an average of over four hours using our phones. Our bodies now experience phantom vibrations falsely thinking we got a notification. We feel an underlying sense of anxiety when we forget our phones at home or if we don’t get an immediate reply to our post.

Places where we once went to people watch (airports or parks for instance) we only watch our phones. If you take a moment to notice, we are all looking down at our phones. At intermission of a theatrical performance, I attended recently, I looked around and the majority of people were looking at their phones. As I walk across the campus at work, most of our students are looking down. When going out to dinner, countless kids are sitting with their families watching an iPad as their parents talk.

Now that technology and social media has been out long enough, we are finally starting to the positive and negative impacts of if. Studies are now conclusively showing that the more people use social media, the less happy they are, the more anxious they are, and the more depressed they become.

Personally, I’ve been questioning the value of social media. Is the time spent on it worth it? Do it significantly add value to my life? Is it keeping me from being productive in any other area? Am I a better human because of it? Am I aware of how social media makes me feel while I am using it? Or am I caught in a trap of mindless scrolling and numbing liking and retweeting?

In the coming few posts, I’ll be sharing about my 40-day “Digitial Declutter” from all social media and optional technologies, how it has impacted my personal and professional life, and what changes I will be making in the weeks ahead.

Stay tuned for what’s next. And if you’re still using social media, go ahead and like, share, or retweet it.

A Break to Declutter
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This past December during the season of Advent, which celebrates the Divine becoming flesh or incarnate, I also wanted to be more incarnate in life. I desired to be present with family, friends, and the world around me. So, I took a break from social media. I deleted all social media apps from my phone and blocked a lot of websites on my laptop.

Although it was brief, it was a good few weeks. I didn’t experience too much FOMO. I think I used my phone a lot less. I felt more productive and less distracted. I was bored more often, which I think was good for my brain. I was more present with my wife and sons. I was still able to keep in touch with my friends and loved ones. The world didn’t end and I didn’t miss out on too many things.

This break gave me some time to consider how I want to continue to use social media. During the ‘fast,’ I decided to regularly do this throughout the year. Initially, I planned a similar break during Advent, Lent, and a month over the summer. This would allow me to be free from social media for a third of the year. Not bad, I thought.

Then, I started reading books like Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, Jaron Lanier’s, 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Andrew Sullivan’s article, I Used to be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too, Catherine Price’s How to Break Up with Your Phone, and a few articles on New York Times here and here, among others.

And, now things are all messed up.

Now it seems imperative that I should quit social media entirely, but also seems impossible to do so. It’s only been 10 years. I know life without social media. I was there before Friendster, even.

So why do I feel as if it’s essential to my life? Is it actually essential to my life?

Some questions I have been asking are: What is my reason for being on social media and is that truly a reason to be on social media? Is trying to get a few additional ‘likes’ or build my platform really worth the hours I spend online? How much of my time and attention is needed to earn a small profit of occasional social media connections? What value is regularly checking social media bringing to my life?

I’ve also been paying attention to how social media makes me feel as I use them. Usually, Facebook makes me angry or completely numb as I scroll unaware, Twitter makes me frustrated, and Instagram’s regular advertisements annoy me.

To figure all this out, I am using Lent to go through a Digital Declutter based off of the challenge Cal Newport gives in his book. I’ll be deleting all optional technology from my phone, which includes all social media, news, email, shopping, etc. My phone will be a ‘dumbphone’ that sends texts, makes calls, plays music and podcasts, and gives directions when needed. I’ll be blocking similar websites on my laptop using BlockSite. All my future blog posts have already been scheduled. This should limit my time online while not hindering my responsibilities at work.

Hopefully, using my phone and social media less will mean that I can be more productive and focused and less distracted and anxious. Hopefully, I’ll experience plenty of leisure activities, such as playing my guitar, going for walks, journaling and writing more frequently, and even discovering a new hobby or two.

More than anything, I want to be face-to-face with people, not face-to-phone around people.

At the end of the Digital Declutter, Newport suggests adding back only those apps or websites that actually add value to your life. So, who knows where I will find myself after this process and what I’ll be deleting or adding back into my life. My guess is I’ll probably delete Facebook, but may keep Instagram. I think this will be more than a detox, it will be a declutter that will allow me a more focused and fulfilled life.