Social Media: Soda, Wine, Oxycodone, or Heroin?

The following is a guest post (my first ever) from my friend and fellow Mungarian Mike Pratt.  Mike and I have been having a friendly argument about social media: is it mainly helpful, harmful, or neutral?  I’m increasingly of the opinion that it does more harm than good, but Mike doesn’t agree.  Here’s what Mike thinks.

 

Andrew asked me to write a guest post on this blog in response to my taking issue with his argument. It’s not that I think his points in his first post and subsequent follow-up post are entirely wrong, but I’ll argue they have omissions and thus fail to convince. I will counter his argument and offer an alternative framework for viewing this thing called social media.

Before I start I’d like to make one side point: I also think Andrew’s statement:

“What has your attention is what has your worship.  What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.”

is gross generalization of the meaning. As Keller puts it

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…”

To simply have your attention is not necessarily bad or false worship. When it has all of your attention, in place of other, more important things (first and foremost, God) then it becomes an idol of worship. Thoughts can go to many things and not render those things worship. Thank God or my daydreaming is convicted!

Now to the Main Topic

This analogy is by no means perfect but I think it’s a decent framework to look at the issue. As you read each blurb on these four substances, ponder in your mind which one you think is most analogous to social media.

Soda

With a few exceptions, soda is viewed as a relatively benign substance to be enjoyed. In small quantities, it’s clearly harmless and even for regular users, there have been few, if any, documented cases of extreme adverse health consequences. It is accepted that soda is not even remotely hazardous like any of the other 3 substances in this analogy.

Wine

Given the alcohol contained in wine, it’s a step up from soda in that it can be abused and in extreme use cases, is addictive and can have serious health consequences. The Bible celebrates wine in measured doses (wedding at Cana) and also condemns its abuse (drunkenness.) Many people drink wine. Many choose not to.

Oxycodone

This seriously addictive and controlled substance is a ruiner of lives when abused. It is also extremely beneficial in tightly controlled use cases (post surgical pain relief) It is highly controlled because it is so addictive as well as misused (leading to abuse).

Heroin

There are no beneficial uses. Highly addictive. Bad bad bad.

 

So what is Facebook, then?

One man’s opinion:

It’s not soda. I think, to Andrew’s point, there are many people who are hooked on the stuff. “Hooked” in this case being defined as “they use it so much that it takes away from the lives they normally led in a detrimental way or at the expense of basic things”

It’s not Oxy. That implies a very limited, positive use case like Oxy which is just not true. A significant number of social media users engage on their platform(s) of choice in positive and beneficial ways. The government does not (nor should) control use of the platforms to prevent a possible mass wave of harmful addiction because with free use, the facts are that only a minor set of users qualify as “harmfully addictive.”

It’s not Heroin. That presumes there are NO beneficial uses of social media and while many do think that, those folks probably think all soda is a mind-control beverage that Pepsi uses in cahoots with the government.

It’s wine. There are plenty of beneficial, everyday uses of Facebook. Can it get out of hand? Sure. Can you “drink too much”? Sure. Should some people give up drinking? Definitely. The key is to look at what you “drink” and why. Does it rule your life? Are you grumpy without a “drink” or do you love a “glass” with a good meal or when out with friends? Andrew posted a picture of everyone in line at an airport on their phones (presuming that it was a “wrong” state of the world) Replace everyone in that picture with a paperback (Google search images and you will find plenty pre-Facebook!) The devices were simply being used as boredom elimination devices. I don’t think that picture was indicative of the eroded state of the world.

A Word on Facebook’s (or Coke’s) Intentions

Coke wants you to buy Coke Zero. Coke Zero is not medically addictive. You may think Coke wants to “addict” you but it doesn’t matter. They can’t. They will do everything they can to get you to buy it. They should. That’s their business. Blaming Facebook for “not caring about the consequences” is like blaming <insert your favorite brewery or winery> for not caring about the consequences of having a glass. They inform you to drink responsibly and it can be argued that Facebook should not need to place a warning label that you might spend too much time in their web app.

So, I’ll leave you with sage advice: Don’t drink and post!

The above was a guest post by Mike Pratt.  (Click here to subscribe to regular updates from this blog.)  Mike is:
  • A Mungarian!  (Member of Munger Place Church.)
  • The CEO of technology startup Panamplify
  • Founder & President of professional org Digital Dallas
  • A former soldier, wall street trader, marketing exec and non-believer
  • Check out Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepratt
  • Email Mike: mike@mikeratt.tv

In Praise of “Deep Work”

As focused attention becomes rarer and rarer in our distracted culture, the people who cultivate focused attention will find themselves becoming more and more valuable.  In other words, you can’t afford NOT to be doing deep work.  This is the thesis of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a book that I cannot recommend highly enough.  Here’s why.

 

Deep Work: A Definition

Cal Newport, computer science professor at Georgetown University, defines deep work in this way:

Deep Work: professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

In contrast with deep work is shallow work:

Shallow Work: noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Most knowledge workers spend most of their time engaged in shallow work–email, anyone?–so that, though they may be busy, they are not productive.

The people who are writing the best-selling books, making the blockbuster movies, creating the irresistible advertising campaigns, winning the major tournaments, and leading the market-beating companies, these are the people who are doing deep work (whether they realize it or not).  Deep work makes a difference.

The Deep Work Hypothesis

The prevalence of shallow work in our culture leads to Newport’s deep work hypothesis.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy [and becoming valuable because it is becoming rare–AF]. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Newport also argues that deep work actually makes people happier.  As someone who has certainly spent a day being busy without being productive, I know that he’s right: I’m happier when I’m able to focus.

So, if you want to thrive in our knowledge work economy and if you want to be happier while doing it, you need to learn how to do deep work.

The Deep Work Rules

Newport has come up with what he calls The Rules of Deep Work.

  1. Work Deeply
  2. Embrace Boredom
  3. Quit Social Media
  4. Drain the Shallows

1. Work Deeply

Deep work is something we can learn how to do.  Focused attention is not something you can just turn on or off–it’s something that must be trained and cultivated, like a muscle.  Just as someone who spends his time sitting on the couch eating Doritos and watching television cannot overnight become a marathon champ, neither can someone who spends his time like that be immediately good at deep work.  Deep work requires practice and planning.

2. Embrace Boredom

Internet tools (social media, on-demand video, infotainment sites, etc.) have taught our minds to need constant stimulation, but deep work requires focused attention, and our need for shallow stimulation will undermine our ability to do deep work.  Therefore, we need to embrace boredom.  It’s good to resist the urge to pull out your smart phone when waiting in line at the post office: our minds need boredom.

3. Quit Social Media

You knew this was coming, right?  Newport makes the argument that people who are actually producing deep work (best-selling authors like Michael Lewis, e.g.) produce deep work because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by social media.  I know lots of people believe that social media is like alcohol–to be used and enjoyed in moderation.  I wonder, though, if social media is more like heroin: addictive and distracting for everyone.  (UPDATE: In conversation, I could say something provocative like that and you’d understand from my jocular tone what I was trying to convey, but I realize that, if you just read those words, they come across differently.  My church actively uses social media (and I use it, too) and I have many friends who work in social media marketing; if I really believed that social media was the same thing as heroin, I’d stop using it immediately.  I think social media marketing is necessary in our culture.  My point is just that I think all of us are much more easily distracted than we want to admit.)

4. Drain the Shallows

By “drain the shallows,” Newport means that we should aggressively eliminate the non-essential from our working lives.  For example, he gives practical tips on how to cut down on email, a major source of shallow work for most people.

Why I Need This Book

About 45 times a year, year after year, my professional responsibilities require me to create a brand-new, relevant, engaging, and faithful presentation and then deliver it in front of an average live audience of about 1,000 people, each one of whom is judging me savagely (even if they seem to be nice people!) on that presentation.  In addition to that, I also create multiple smaller presentations and essays through the year that also need to be original, relevant, helpful, and faithful.  In our distracted world, it seems as if everything but the truly important is screaming LOOK AT ME!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!, and so I’ve come to the following conclusion:

if I don’t learn to do deep work, I’m not going to make it.

Deep Work is one of the most insightful, practical, and challenging books I’ve read about work and creativity…maybe ever.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

★★★★ excellent

 

 

 

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Further Thoughts on Facebook

I wrote a post last week suggesting that, in its quest to capture our attention, it’s almost as if Facebook wants our worship.  I meant the post to be provocative, and at least for me, it was: the post has provoked some further thoughts, which I share below.

My Name is Andrew and I’m a User

I have a Facebook account and a Twitter account, I use YouTube, and I carry around an iPhone that enables me to be connected whenever I want.  It’s precisely because I’m a user that I’m concerned about what Cal Newport calls “Internet tools” (search engines, social media sites, online encyclopedias, etc.): I see their effects on my own life.   It is because I’ve seen what these tools are doing to me that I’m calling into question our naive and uncritical adoption of Internet tools.

Facebook Is Shorthand

For me, Facebook functions as shorthand for all the other Internet tools.  I don’t have anything against Facebook per se.

Social Media Is Different Than Television

One commenter wondered if I should have included television in my critique.  I don’t think television and Facebook are apples to apples, for several reasons:

  • Television goes in one direction only: I receive it.  Facebook, on the other hand, allows me to transmit messages to the world, and the very act of transmitting those messages in that medium promotes narcissism: it’s all about me.
  • Television isn’t one thing, but a grouping of many things: networks, advertisements, writers, actors, etc. Facebook is a for-profit monolith.  It’s ubiquity and power make it more dangerous than old media.

Social Media Promotes Narcissism

The very nature of the social media promotes narcissism, because they encourage me to make everything about me: my updates, my likes, my reactions.

Social Media Isolates

For all the talk about connectivity, I find that social media and the other Internet tools are more likely to isolate than connect us together.  The more time we spend looking down at our blinking smart phones, the less able we are to cultivate presence and mindfulness.

Social Media is the Enemy of Patience

Everything about Internet tools is about immediacy: immediate reactions, thoughts, and gratification of desires.  If I want something, I buy it on Amazon; if I have an opinion about a current event, I share it to the world.  This immediacy keeps us from developing the virtue of patience, and patience matters because the important things in life require that we wait.

Social Media Trains Me to Need Constant Stimulation

It is shameful how often I find myself in a line somewhere, only to pull out my iPhone.  The way Internet tools have trained us to need constant stimulation is what scares me the most about these tools.

Social Media is the Message

If the medium is the message, then it’s not the content of the various social media platforms that ought to worry us, but the very nature of these platforms themselves.  In other others, it could be the case that even if we eschew all the destructive and evil things on the Internet (pornography, terrorist death videos, etc.), these tools might still warp our minds and twist our wills.

At least, that’s what I’ve started to worry about.

 

 

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Facebook, False God*

Facebook wants your worship.  I know that sounds extreme, but what if it’s true?  What if the thing Facebook most desires is to make you most desire it?  Isn’t that idolatry?

Worship=Attention

What has your attention is what has your worship.  What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.  By that definition, what many of us are worshipping is Facebook and the various other social media and infotainment sites.  Click, click, click.

And, in our naiveté, we have turned our eyes to a god-like entity that has its greedy eyes on our lives.

Cal Newport, Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown, makes the obvious (but rarely stated) point in his book Deep Work that we are fools if we think these Internet tools (that we find so addictive) were created to bless us without demanding something in return:

We no longer see Internet tools as products released by for-profit companies, funded by investors hoping to make a return, and run by twentysomethings who are often making things up as they go along.

from Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport

Facebook makes MONEY off your attention.  No wonder, then, that Mark Zuckerberg and his staff have worked so hard to make Facebook irresistible.  Click.  Click.  Click.

And, not only does Facebook make money off your attention, Facebook doesn’t care about you or what will happen to you, as long as it gets what it wants.

If you think about it, the world around us, including the world in our computers, is all about trying to tempt us to do things right now.  Take Facebook, for example.  Do they want you to be more productive twenty years from now?  Or do they want to take your time, attention, and money right now?  The same thing goes for YouTube, online newspapers, and so on.

from Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

So, Facebook is something that: 1. Makes money from our attention.  2.  Doesn’t care about the consequences but allures and tempts with each click, click, click.

Is Facebook a false god?

*I am aware that some of you will see irony in the fact that you actually accessed this post through Facebook.  Rather than irony, I see it as an insurgency.  I am also aware that many of you will want to defend your (and my) use of Facebook.  Ask yourself, Why?

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My A/V Media Diet

What do you watch and listen to on a regular basis?  We are what we eat, and that goes for the information we consume.  Today’s post (part 2 of a 3 part series) is about the sources that make up my Audio/Visual  media diet.

Audio Subscriptions

I have been a devoted listener and subscriber to The Mars Hill Audio Journal since 2003.  Ken Myers, from Charlottesville, VA, has created an audio journal that is exactly opposite everything our popular culture embraces: his interviews are long, unconcerned with the latest and loudest, and deeply concerned with the deep questions that humans have been asking for millennia.

The name of the Journal comes from Acts 17, where the Apostle Paul goes to Mars Hill in Athens and interacts with the pagan philosophers on their own terms.

Podcasts

  • The Eric Metaxas Showwhich features Eric Metaxas and his wide variety of guests;
  • Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast;
  • Munger Place Audio Podcast: though it’s painful for me to listen to my own sermons, I still do so from time to time because I know that hearing myself helps me become a better preacher;
  • Fresh Air: Half the time I’m either completely uninterested in Terry Gross’s interviews or else in complete disagreement with her perspective, and the other half of the time I’m captivated by the long-form interviews featured on Fresh Air;
  • In Our Time, a long-running radio show on the BBC hosted by Melvyn Bragg, who interviews British academics to talk in detail about history, science, etc.
  • This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt.  I liked the earlier version of this podcast better than the current episodes, but from time to time I still benefit from Michael Hyatt’s insights on productivity and leadership.

Television

I don’t watch much television these days and we don’t have cable.  When I do watch TV, it’s mainly with my family and mainly on Sundays: NFL football, 60 Minutes, and America’s Funniest Videos.  As a family, we also watched American Ninja Warrior on Mondays this summer.

I’ve watched every episode of Arrested Development multiple times (via Netflix and Hulu), and, until Netflix took it off the air, would also rewatch Fawlty Towers.  (This watching of the same shows over and over again drives my wife crazy.)

Social Media

I reluctantly use Facebook for my job because it helps me stay connected with people in my congregation, and it helps me remember names.  On the other hand, I’ve been an enthusiastic user of Twitter: I like the ways it allows me to follow lots of really interesting people.

However, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, in early summer 2015 I deleted both the Facebook and Twitter apps from my iPhone and I haven’t looked back.  I still use Facebook from time to time, but I’ve essentially not read anything on Twitter for over 3 months.

Audiobooks

I love audiobooks, and in the last year have been using the Overdrive app from the Dallas Public Library, which allows you to check out audiobooks from your local public library.  (I have to be honest, though, and tell you that I miss books on tape.  Those were the days.)

Coming in Part 3

The final installment in this series will run next Monday and will be about I subscribe to and read in print: books, magazines, journals, etc.  (Click here to read part 1, about my online media diet.)  The above was what I listen to and watch on a regular basis.

What about you?  What sources make up your A/V media diet?

 

 

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3 Things I Learned From a Week Without Screens

As part of our church’s Lenten campaign, my family and I just spent the last week abstaining from screens for purposes of entertainment.  (No tv, blogs, streaming video, etc.  Unfortunately, I still had to use email for work, etc.  Wouldn’t that be nice?….)

Here are 3 things I learned from the experience.  The 1st is obvious and expected, the 2nd and 3rd surprised me:

screens

  1. I’m a lot more productive when I’m not tied to my phone or computer.
  2. My stress level is lower when I’m not absorbing content from the internet, because
  3. Much internet content focuses on fomenting outrage.  We are a people of grievance and offense.  A friend of mine called me midweek and asked me about something that had occurred that had gotten the internet outraged and it was a relief to say that I knew nothing about it and didn’t care.  I don’t need more petty outrage in my life.  If you took away tweets and blog posts and articles that express offense or outrage–and took away pornography, sadly–how much of the internet would be left?

It’s startling how quickly something that’s clearly not a necessity–screens for entertainment–can shape our ways of living and interacting.  What about you–how are screens shaping how you live, work, or parent?