While this is not a particularly sexy topic, it does have some profound implications.
Digital technology is now ubiquitous. So we need to think carefully about our relationship with technology. We need to ensure that technology remains a tool for our benefit instead of others’ use to benefit from us.
In other words, use technology. Don’t be used by it.
The first thing to consider is to try, where possible, never to use free services. There is the usual adage of:
“If the product is free, you are the product.”
This is true, and the price you pay for that is far higher than you think. Having a good life is about directing our attention. Our attention is our consciousness, and we need to control it to the things that we want and benefit us. Free products and services available online sell your attention to advertisers. Their goals for your life are, in most cases, opposed to your goals.
It isn’t easy to use these free services and control your life. There are thousands of engineers on the other side of the screen whose sole task is to manipulate your behavior. To get you to do what is best for whichever technology company owns the app, you happen to be using.
When you pay for a product or service, you are the customer. It is far more likely that the product or service you use is more aligned with your own goals. Of course, there are no guarantees. Smokers and drinkers buy cigarettes and alcohol, but both of these products are addictive and bad for your health.
So, it is clear that we need to have a conscious relationship with technology. If we use technology mindlessly, we are likely to be led astray.
And this gets to the real problem with a lot of modern technology, which is a misalignment of incentives.
Because any company with an advertising-based revenue will not have the same goals as you have. They make a lot more money when you sit in bed scrolling endlessly through your feed. Instead, you might want to be reading a book or learning musical instruments, or chatting face-to-face with your friends.
These organizations have incentives to create behavior that is the opposite of what you need to live a good life.
My recommendations to take back control are pretty simple. Except for valuable things, such as meeting reminders from your calendar apps, turn off notifications.
Nowadays, phones allow you to track your usage, keep an eye on this, and ensure that it is trending downwards week on week. This is both for the total amount of screen time and the number of times you pick up your phone and check it.
Where possible, instead of putting your phone in your pocket, put it in your bag if you carry one. This puts it further out of reach and will stop you from compulsively checking your phone. This is because of the extra friction you have added to the process. It’s not much — but it works.
Delete all your social media accounts. If that is too much for you, delete the application from your phone. You can access them from your laptop instead. This will ensure that you don’t lose hours of your time scrolling through newsfeeds instead of getting on with your real-life goals.
I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my life on my 30th birthday and haven’t looked back since. This is by far the best decision I’ve made in my life.
In the past year since I made that decision, I’ve had the best year of my life. More positive things have happened, and I have found a significant amount of free time that I didn’t know I had. I’ve spent it working on the goals that I set to improve my life.
I have cultivated deeper friendships with a smaller set of friends. I didn’t need hundreds or thousands of surface friendships that don’t mean anything.
So before you dismiss the idea of removing social media from your life completely, think about the upside. You can also deactivate your accounts and take one month off as an experiment, and then see how you feel.
But this goes much further than social media. Think about all the technology in your life, and both appreciate it and respect it. This can be as basic as the hot shower that you likely take every morning. Go for a week, taking only cold showers. I can promise you that you’ll have newfound gratitude for hot water.