I love TED talks. In this age of politicians shouting, D List celebs on reality TV shows, endless repeats on rose tinted Gold channels, there’e something very satisfying about being able to listen to a presenter talk with clarity on an interesting subject for ten or fifteen minutes.
So this talk by Dr Cal Newport calling for everyone to quit social media drew my attention. Watch it in full, then read my views below.
An interesting talk and Cal is correct on many levels. Social media is indeed a ‘slot machine’ that tries to keep you engaged. However, I feel you must take his opinions in context. He comes from the strongly academic background of a highly educated person.
The type of Deep Work he calls for is available only to a relatively small percentage of the population. His examples of great academic work are quite correct and on their own merit, fascinating.
But if, like me, you are from a sales and selling background or from a film making and photographic background, then Social Media is an amazing tool to tell interesting and engaging stories in ways that just a few years ago would have been incredibly expensive.
The internet is a wonderful tool of democratisation. We just need to educate people that sometimes they should question what they see and be more inquisitive.
It’s called common sense.
What was more disturbing was the discussion thread below the film. Endless ‘me too’ comments of people who claimed to be desparetly unhappy on social media. Feelings of loneliness inadequecy and other dark tones abounded.
Is social media really such a dark evil place?
There is little doubt that social media is a time thief. By it’s very definition, Facebook’s whole objective is to learn as much about you as they can and then use that information keep you there. There entire business model is built around selling your attention to advertisers. The longer they have your attention, the more time they have to sell to advertisers who have been selected according to what they know about you.
Now if this is news to you, then I really feel sorry that you’ve led such a sheltered life.
However, for me, it’s easy to see this. My background for many years was sales and marketing. Social media came along after I had left my teenage years behind, so I can only imagine the magnification of teenage angst that comes from growing up with spots, a changing body image and a lust for that unobtainable girlfriend on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
The saddest part is that younger people seem to simply accept that the carefully curated feed of a perfect celebrity with bone structure to die for and an idyllic lifestyle is a true reality. And that lack of common sense and inquisitiveness saddens me.
As for the marketing messages?
They are selected for you based upon what they have learned about you.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s exactly the same principle as the snail mail printed marketing info you get about buying carpets and curtains from the same company you bought your sofa from. The difference is that it’s digital, it’s agile and it can be targeted far more tightly than marketing departments could have dreamed of in previous eras. And it doesn’t waste tonnes of printed paper that head straight from the doormat to the recycling bin.
Whether we like it or not, social media isn’t going away any time soon. Dr Cal is in a tiny minority right now. In fact, what we desperately do need is some realism and common sense in the world.