Endless Digital Consumption: Building a Fractured Life
Unsurprising to everyone and anyone, social media is bad for us. At least, it’s bad for us in the way it’s currently designed. All the social media apps you can think of that discuss community and fostering connection (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, etc.) are the forerunners in creating an addiction to technology. Here is what we know about digital consumption currently:
● Our phones and apps are, by design, addictive attention-suckers.
● Anxiety and social media go hand-in-hand.
● By filling our in-between time, like commutes or in conversation pauses, or while
waiting in line at the store, with burying our faces in our phones, we lose the
ability to be alone with our thoughts.
● No mental space = limited creativity and minimal deep thinking.
● A lack of deep thinking = limited personal growth
Ultimately, the effects of this digital consumption are creating fragmented, unsatisfied
But we have to ask ourselves: why? What is the main goal behind digital consumption? What would people risk creating unsatisfied and fractured lives for? What drives our phones and apps to be designed as addictive as possible?
Short answer: capitalism.
Capitalist Digital Consumption: The Rat-Race For Your Money
Technology, and specifically social media apps, are in a consumption-driven rat-race for your attention, and by extension, your money. The longer you stay on any of these apps, the longer they have to figure out what makes you stay on a video 0.5 seconds longer and why. That information is more valuable than most of us realize. In our world of consistently shortening attention spans due to these apps creating dopamine feedback loops that keep you coming back for more, more, more entertainment always, how long you watch a video has monetary implications. If you watch a video on sneakers for a few seconds longer than a video on clothes, the algorithm of whatever social media app you're on notes that, and configures itself to show you more products that you’re likely to buy. In essence, social media apps are specifically designed to exploit consumer behaviour and increase the bottom line of major corporations who use
this exploitation to their advantage.
Minimalism and Technology: Stopping Our Exploitation
So what can we do to fix this problem? Is there a way to enjoy technology that doesn’t result in our endless exploitation and decreased quality of life and mental health? Some would argue digital minimalism is the answer. If minimalism is all about living with less, of getting rid of excess stuff, only inviting things into our lives that truly serve us and focusing on experiences, digital minimalism seeks
to merge this philosophy with technology. It seeks to draw the line between healthy and unhealthy technological consumption. Though technology is deeply entrenched as a form of cultural interaction and exchange, the way we’re currently interacting with the digital world is harmful to our health, both personally and culturally. Digital minimalism seeks to rewire the way we interact with technology and allows us to find peace with technology instead of being overrun by it.
Cal Newport: Choosing A Focused Life In a Noisy World
Digital Minimalism as a philosophy was popularized by bestselling author Cal Newport and his book Choosing A Focused Life In a Noisy World. Newport explains his Digital Minimalism philosophy as follows: a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a same number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else. Newports' take is refreshing, as it allows for the room to still participate in technological society comfortably as long as you tie your consumption to your core values. Figuring out your core values when you’re addicted to your phone can be difficult. It can be easy to think of community as a value and want to use Instagram, only to find yourself substituting actual deep and meaningful friendship with constantly taking and sharing pictures to gauge your own popularity in your social circle. Newport outlines a few different methods to find what digital technology actually serves us:
● Digital Detox. Spend time away from social media and take stock of what you
find. Are you happier, more relaxed? Identify which apps might serve this
happiness you’ve found rather than interrupt it.
● Spend Time Alone. Addiction to our phones means we’re never alone. Spend
some time fully “off grid” and see what you miss about technology. If there’s
nothing at all: cool. If you miss watching people review makeup on YouTube,
that’s fine too.
● Replace Social Media with Real Connection. Prioritize seeing people in person or
talking on the phone. The digital world removes emotion and inflection. Our lives
are much richer when we have those things.
● Schedule Out Your Time. If you’re going to participate in social media, schedule it
as a part of your day so you’re not overrun by it. Give it the attention you want to
and when your time is up, walk away. If you can’t walk away, then you know this
app might not actually be serving you and your health.
● Reclaim Leisure. Currently, our leisure time is taken up by technology. Whether
it’s TV, movies, social media, or other digital consumption, all of our time away
from work is spent on these activities. Reclaim some of your leisure time by
creating hobbies unrelated to social media that can help rebalance your mental
health and end the continuous instant dopamine hits that keep us addicted to
Resources: Learn more about Digital Minimalism
Newport’s book is solid but if you’re looking for more resources and critiques of our endless digital consumption and where to turn our efforts instead, check out the resources below:
● Comedian Bo Burnham Netflix Special: Inside. Burnham takes on the scary
endlessness of the internet. His song "Welcome to the Internet” specifically
critiques the dichotomies of the internet and how it preys on young people.
● Netflix’s Documentary: The Social Dilemma. This documentary discusses social
networking with some lead activists, experts, and original creators behind social
media algorithms to sound the alarm on the dangerous impact these apps are
having on our society.
Overall, digital minimalism helps us clarify not only what technologies will serve us but how to use those technologies. Cal Newport and the media above exposes the harmful effects of endless digital consumption; it’s up to us to implement these habits. But by putting in the work, we can switch from being overwhelmed by technology to being empowered by it.