I happened to stumble upon Cal Newport's excellent Blog, Study Hacks, during the first semester of my sophomore year at Boston University (BU). My first year at BU I excelled in the classroom despite my poor study habits, since I had taken 7 AP courses my senior year in high school and a lot of my coursework in my freshman year at BU was a repeat of what I had already completed in high school.
However, during my sophomore year, not only were my classes significantly harder (organic chemistry, multivariable calculus etc), but I was working ~ 15 hours a week as a chemistry learning assistant, and I was on my journey to walking on to the track and field team at BU. With the substantially increased workload, and poor habits, my results from my midterms were disappointing to say the least. Therefore I knew I needed to change my process, otherwise I would get the same subpar result.
I made considerable changes to my study habits, but the most impactful change I made was quitting Facebook. It was something I had considered as I found myself going on Facebook more and more as the semester went on, especially when I was studying. Yet, it was Cal Newport's article: An Argument for Quitting Facebook, that made me commit to giving up my addiction crack known as Facebook. Little did I know that the research backed up my actions. Increased time spent on Facebook while studying was negatively related to GPA levels (1).
Like many things that are quite addicting, I found myself back on Facebook soon enough. I would have friends extoll the benefits of social media. However, as Cal Newport so eloquently describes in the video above, social media is NOT a quintessential technology of the 21st century. It is just a source of entertainment. Saying you do not want to use social media is akin to saying you prefer Netflix to Hulu. It shouldn't be that big of a deal to not use a service in which a handful of private of companies use your attention and personal information to make billions of dollars. Further, social media as a form of entertainment is quite unsavoury because these companies have engineered their services to be as addicting as possible because controlled usage does not generate billions of dollars of revenue and unparalleled growth of their stock. This is why two former employees of Google and Facebook have created the Center for Human Technology to combat the unscrupulous behaviour of these companies (2).
So should everyone quit social media? The one thing I have learned that is almost always correct except in the most extreme cases, is that applying an all-or-nothing approach is most likely not appropriate. You need to decide for yourself whether social media is appropriate for you. However, the decision heuristic we use when making this very important decision is fundamentally flawed. Cal Newport discusses this in his excellent book, Deep Work. Typically, when making this decision we take the 'any benefit' approach. So if the technology has any benefit we adapt it. Yet, it is clear how following such a decision process is flawed. If one made spending decisions based on this model, they would quickly be drowning in credit card debt.
The approach Cal Newport espouses in Deep Work is the 'craftsman's mindset.' You need to examine both the benefits and harms BEFORE adopting a tool or piece of technology such as social media.
So I will walk you through my decision process in whether I should quit social media or not to give you an example of applying the 'craftsman's mindset.' So tools like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter do have benefits for me. They allow me to promote my website, related services, and my YouTube Channel. They allow me to keep up with others activities and accomplishments. They allow me to be exposed to new ideas and individuals who are doing excellent work. So if I was taking the 'any benefit' approach I would have already enrolled in all these services.
However, it is equally as important to critically examine the negatives of using such software. As Cal Newport discusses in Deep Work the foundation of a meaningful career and impactful work is creating something rare and valuable. Long periods of uninterrupted and intense focus are the requisite ingredients to create something rare and valuable. Social media is the antithesis of Deep Work. Further, it drastically impairs my ability to do Deep Work.
As a medical student I am extremely busy, and learning all the material is incredibly challenging, but rewarding. While I love medical school, and feel so deeply privilege to study medicine, I also love spending time with friends and family, regularly exercising and having some down time. I have found that if I increase the intensity which I study with, I can reduce the amount of time I need to study. This has been a game changer for me since it allows me the time to decompress and restore myself so that I can serve my community even better.
Don't take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.
Further as I have discussed above, these services are quite unsavoury as they are designed to promote compulsive use. As a future physician I am quite interested in understanding the effects that rampant screen use and social media use is having on individual's mental health. Time spent on social media has been show to be negatively associated with mental well being, and positively associated with depression and anxiety (3,4). Further, not only is time spent on social media positively associated with depression and anxiety but also the number of social media accounts one has is independently associated with depression and anxiety as well (4). The mechanism through which time spent on social media can lead to depression is hypothesized to be through comparing one's self to others. More time spent on Facebook was positively related with comparing one's self to others, which is in turn associated with increased depressive symptoms (5). This relationship held true regardless of the nature of the social comparison (upward, downward, or non-directional) (5).
Therefore after having gone through this deliberation process, it was clear that the harms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram outweighed the minor benefits they bestowed which could be easily replaced by other means which were a lot less objectionable. However, the decision surrounding LinkedIn and YouTube were a bit more difficult.
In the end I decided to keep my LinkedIn account, since I have been offered and worked for meaningful and enjoyable jobs through this service. Further, it is a service I do NOT feel compelled to visit and will check the website 1-2 times per month, if that. Since LinkedIn is driven by individuals paying to use the service, they do not need to engineer their software to be as addicting as possible to generate ad revenue. For YouTube it was a bit more difficult decision, as it has many of the same downfalls of other social media services, but in the end I decided to keep it because it was the only feasible way for me to upload videos and share them here on my blog. If I continue to produce videos and the popularity of them grows I will look into exploring other video hosting servers such as Vimeo. Further, I try to minimize my use of YouTube as much as possible, and only go on there, if there is something specific I want to watch. One of the biggest take aways I took from Deep Work is to minimize the use of the internet as entertainment. (Except obviously reading my blog ;)
I hoped this deliberation process helped you understand how to apply the craftman's mindset to deciding whether or not you want to use social media. If you decide you do want to use social media, I hope you do so in a much more deliberate fashion and not haphazardly, otherwise social media has a tendency to continuously eat up your attention and time, since that is how they are designed. The most recent stats from the Global Web Index state that adults now spend 2+ hours on social media. (6) While they are many important and valuable uses of social media in certain situations I can't imagine ANY that require 2+ hours of use every day, unless it is to make a lot of money for a small collection of private companies.
If you have to use social media, delete the apps on your phone. Instead schedule into your calendar when you need to check/use your social media accounts, and do it on a desktop. Further, since the research seems to indicate having many accounts is detrimental to your mental health as well as spending too much time on social media consider streamlining your social media services. Do you really need Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and Pinterest?
- Quitting social media is one of the best hacks to improve your GPA, standardized test score or work performance
- Examine both the benefits AND harms of social media before deciding to continue to use these services
- The average adult spends 2+ hours on social media per day. If you decide using social media is right for you, delete the apps on your phone, and be deliberate when and for how long you spend using the social media service of your choice.
If you can’t sustain it, it’s not worth it.
1. Junco, R., & Cotten, S. R. (2012). No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education, 59(2), 505–514. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.COMPEDU.2011.12.023
2. Former Facebook and Google employees fight tech “addiction” - BBC News. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2018, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42959848
3. Shakya, H. B., & Christakis, N. A. (2017). Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185(3), 203–211. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kww189
4.Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Barrett, E. L., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., & James, A. E. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.CHB.2016.11.013
5.Steers, M.-L. N., Wickham, R. E., & Acitelli, L. K. (2014). SEEING EVERYONE ELSE’S HIGHLIGHT REELS: HOW FACEBOOK USAGE IS LINKED TO DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(8), 701–731. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/docview/1612369422?pq-origsite=summon&accountid=14656
6. Social Media Usage Rises To 2+ Hours Per Day | GlobalWebIndex. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/daily-time-spent-on-social-networks/
I am a medical student who is obsessed with the Be Activated Muscle Activation Technique, mastering movement and understanding what makes humans thrive.