Maybe I just grew too old for this. Anyway, the fascination of Twitter and LinkedIn has given way to a feeling of strain and sometimes overload. At least since the increasingly acrimonious and strongly polarizing discussions around COVID-19. For a long time I didn’t want to admit what is obvious. In social media I am not the customer, but rather the product. It’s all about capturing my attention with insidious addiction-enhancing mechanisms for as long as possible. With success, as a sober look at the screen time of my iPhone shows:
In his TED-Talk, Tristan Harris explains the issues very well. And he should know, because he has studied these mechanisms at the “Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab” and applied them at Google until one day doubts came over him. He then wrote a slide deck that went so viral internally at Google that Larry Page invited him to talk and named him “Design Ethicist”. However, since Google is part of this attention industry and earns its money from it, his effectiveness there remained limited, so he left Google in 2016 to found the “Center for Humane Technology” and has since been working towards a more mindful and ethical approach to human attention.
This is all sufficiently well known today. However, as with other addictive behaviors, knowledge alone is of no use. Otherwise there would be no casinos in Las Vegas and otherwise the slot machines there would not make so unbelievably much revenue. And of course it’s no coincidence that you can pull down just about any timeline on your smartphone to get a refresh. New game, new chance.
The decisive factor here is the random reward. This could be the one new interesting story on LinkedIn. Even better, though, is how “likes” work, at least for me. Every like (which is now available on LinkedIn in five different nuances) is a sign of appreciation and I really like appreciation for my articles and other activities. And if these likes come up randomly and it’s never sure how many likes will be displayed the next time the smartphone is unlocked, then I feel like the pigeons in an experiment from the 1970s: unpredictable rewards are far more appealing than predictable ones. And just as the pigeons keep pecking at the button where they get more or less food, I pick up the smartphone more often than it makes sense or is necessary.
The hot new technologies that emerged in the past decade or so are particularly well suited to foster behavioral additions, leading people to use them much more than they think is useful or healthy. […] Compulsive use, in this context, is not the result of a character flaw, but instead the result of a massively profitable business plan. We didn’t sign up for the digital lives we now lead.Cal Newport
No, this is indeed not the digital life I had signed up for. And without trying to talk my way out of it, I am firmly convinced that I am also a victim of a lopsided arms race by the attention industry. In 2010 I signed up for Twitter (LinkedIn came much later) to get new impulses by chance(!), but also to spread my content and ideas and to get in touch with interesting people in the discussion. And all that worked and works very well. Therefore I always argued with this obvious and for me undeniable benefit of social media.
This is exactly the argumentation that the computer science professor and author Cal Newport uses in his 2019 book “Digital Minimalism” (Amazon Affiliate Link). In it, he describes his philosophy of conscious technology use, which at its core is not about abstinence, but about consciously deciding which technology is to be used for which purpose in the best possible way.
Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus on online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.Cal Newport
For an introduction to Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport describes the process of Digital Decluttering. For a period of 30 days, one dispenses with optional technologies and uses this time to devote oneself to other activities and behaviors. With the clarity of this 30-day abstinence, you then determine for each technology how it enriches your life, whether it is the best technology to do so, and if so, how it can be used optimally.
So much for the theory. Coincidentally I have one month of parental leave now and during this time I would rather dedicate myself to my family than counting likes. Since Twitter and LinkedIn are still valuable channels and will always remain so as long as I blog, I can’t completely do without them, but will only severely restrict their use (also allowed and intended in the process of Digital Decluttering). So I uninstalled both on my smartphone (just like Instagram, which I hardly use anyway). Instead, I’ll only take care of the one or the other discussion at a few clearly defined times.
So there is no need to worry if I do not reply immediately in future. On the contrary.