Most introverts love social media. They allow us to communicate with the outside world, make friends, and keep in touch with likeminded individuals without the need to leave our homes. Social media sounds like a gift from heaven.
Except, they are not. Let me provide a counterargument on why introverts need to resist the temptations and limit their use of social networks. And yes, I do see the irony of posting this article on social media. I do have an excuse I will mention later.
Time and attention
There is a finite amount of time and attention you can give to the activities in your life. The amount of time you have in a single day to use for your pursuits is constant. You may have more time if you sleep less, but on average, each of us can provide a number that says how many hours every day we have available.
If you complain that you don’t have enough time to manage everything you need to do, then you are lying to yourself. You have the same amount of time as the rest of humankind. It is just a question of how you spend it.
You can’t manage time, but you can manage attention. It is only up to you to decide what you want to put your focus on. If you focus on the right things, you will quickly realize that you can do a lot, and you will be happier. Can you do everything in the world? No. Can you do the things that are the most important to you? Definitely.
Busyness and productivity
In the good old days of mostly manual labor, it was straightforward to see how productive you are. Even today, some professions get immediate feedback on how well they are doing and what they produce. If you plant two hundred trees and your quota for the day was a hundred and fifty, you know you did an excellent job. You were productive, you achieved your goal, and you feel great. You did something meaningful.
If you are a knowledge worker who sits in the office all day long, it may not be that straightforward to figure out whether you produce the amount of work you should. How do you measure whether you produced the right amount of work when you were reviewing some legal documents all day long? How do you measure whether you produced enough good quality code when being a software engineer? Since it may not be easy to measure the output, we learned to measure the effort, or rather the busyness. You may end up your day with a bit fuzzy idea of what exactly you achieved, but you feel good because you were busy. We mistake busyness with productivity.
Busyness is easily achieved by being involved in everything that’s going on around you. You go to every meeting and respond to every email. You keep checking all your social networks and responding to the avalanche of small requests. You are busy. And it feels good at the time. And you complain about how busy you are. And you don’t achieve anything that truly matters!
There is an opportunity cost of everything. If you chose to do one thing, it means you are also choosing not to do another thing. If you decided to spend an hour responding to messages on your favorite social media, it means you implicitly decided not to write a new blog post, go for a run, or have a meaningful conversation with your spouse.
And yet you start complaining about not having enough time to write a blog post, have a healthier lifestyle, or talk to your spouse or a best friend. When you think about it, it was never about time. It was about your choice to prioritize interaction on social media above something else. Very often that “something else” is much more meaningful, and that is why we are dissatisfied with our lives. We choose to get distracted by unimportant stuff and then have regrets that we can’t do things that truly matter to us.
Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work, coined a term, wait for it, deep work. He talks about the importance of significant stretches of uninterrupted time to achieve your life goals and truly produce results. Social media, even though they do have some uses, often act as a huge distraction. And not just social media. It is the constant electronic communication, including instant messaging applications and email that make it so hard to focus on what matters to us. We feel obligated to answer to others as soon as they ask, and we ignore our priorities.
Imagine it is the end of the year, and you are looking back and analyzing whether this was a good year or not. In the first case, you limited distractions coming from social media, television, emails, and the constant need for information, and you managed to research a complex topic and write a book that just went to press and started to sell. In the second case, you sent tens of thousands of instant messages, you saw hundreds of video clips and pictures of celebrities, and read every single piece of news you could put your hands on. You were busy. In both cases you read the same amount of articles and wrote the same amount of words. In the first case, would you say you had a good year? And what about in the second one?
Consuming and producing
Most people are much more satisfied with their lives when they produce rather than consume. Most of us want to see that what we are doing makes sense, that what we do matters. We need to see the results of our work. We need to create things. We need to produce. Then we feel good about ourselves and our lives.
Social media, for the most part, act as a distraction in this effort. They force us to consume. They give us so much information to browse through. Information we never knew we needed, but that we suddenly feel we can’t live without. They give us an opportunity to have a shallow relationship with hundreds of people we wouldn’t even talk to when meeting on the street. They give us so many choices for how to spend our time. They abduct our attention, so we don’t spend it on things that truly matter to us. Not to mention the fact that social media with their personalized content significantly narrow our view of the world and make us a bit more self-centered and intolerant.
I promised to explain the irony of me posting this on LinkedIn. I’m an avid reader, and I do spend quite a bit of time every weekend going through articles on this platform. I start with one, then find another that is related, then another, and I finish half an hour later reading about something I have no interest in. However, I also know that I’m not alone in this. The bright side of platforms publishing content is that it encourages me to produce. If I write a good blog post, I can share my knowledge and thoughts with the world and hopefully make someone’s life better. When using social media, make sure you hit the right balance of consuming and producing.
Putting it all together
Do an inventory check of where you put your attention during the day. Do you have big uninterrupted chunks of time to produce your best? Good. If not, what are the distractions? Can you limit them to specific times to free the rest of the day for deep work? Things like answering emails, preparing reports are all tasks that don’t require your complete uninterrupted attention. They are what Newport calls shallow work.
Try to organize your day, week, and month in a way that you either eliminate the shallow work or bundle that sort of activities together in a way that will allow you to spend enough time focused on what is truly important to you. Being it deep work producing something great, building a healthy relationship with key people in your life, or recharging and taking care of your health.
Social networks are very tempting for introverts as they give us a way to deal with the world on our terms. However, they attack some of our key strengths. Our ability to focus and think deep. If you let this happen, it will turn you into a disillusioned individual who always feels busy doing things, and yet is unable to create anything meaningful. You will feel envious of others and sorry for yourself. You will struggle more and more to achieve your life dreams, and your attention will be more and more turned to the negative aspects of life.
Would I shut down all the social networks? No. Would I urge you to be very deliberate with how you use them? That would be a big YES.
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