Smartphone Without Social Media: Avoid Addiction & Distraction

The Smartphone Without Social Media

Newport, a computer science professor and author, discusses his unique relationship with technology, particularly his smartphone. Despite owning one, he doesn’t use social media apps, which makes the device less captivating. Instead, he sees it as a useful tool for basic functions like making calls, listening to music, and navigating maps.

When it comes to text messaging, Newport admits he’s not the most responsive. He can go hours without checking his phone, often leaving conversations hanging and having to declare “text bankruptcy” a few times a day.

Newport’s work setup is equally unconventional. He has two separate offices in his home: a traditional home office with a printer, filing cabinets, and a monitor, and a library with no permanent technology. The library, custom-built to resemble a college library desk, is where he goes to write, surrounded by carefully curated books and a fireplace for inspiration. His phone is never present in this room, allowing him to think and create without distractions, much like professionals have done for centuries.

The Dangers of Social Media Addiction

Newport and Huberman discuss the impact of digital distractions on cognitive work. Newport reveals that he doesn’t use social media, which he believes is the main culprit behind digital distraction, engineered to pull attention back to them.

Huberman suggests that the phone and social media have become an extension of our brain, almost like another cortical area. However, Newport argues that the feeling of discomfort when away from the phone is more likely a sign of moderate behavioral addiction.

Newport believes that unrestricted Internet usage should not be given to youth until post-pubescence when they have more brain development and social entrenchment. He also emphasizes the cognitive cost of task switching induced by frequent phone and social media checks, leading to a state of cognitive disorder throughout the day.

Newport attributes his productivity to avoiding digital distractions, allowing him to work efficiently without burning the midnight oil. He suggests that people underestimate the impact of digital distractions on cognitive output.

The Void: How Social Media Fills Unmet Needs

Newport and Huberman discuss the void that many people feel in their lives due to unmet potential and misalignment with their true interests. They suggest that social media and other distractions are often used to paper over this void, making life just tolerable enough to continue.

In an experiment Newport conducted, participants who successfully gave up social media for 30 days were those who aggressively pursued alternative activities and filled their time with meaningful pursuits. They learned new hobbies, reconnected with friends, and rediscovered the joys of libraries and exercise.

Newport and Huberman also touch on the topic of ADHD and how terms like depression, trauma, and gaslighting are often used in non-clinical contexts. They note that while these are real issues for many people, the broader use of these terms can lead to a dilution of their true meaning and understanding.

The Dangers of Distraction on Cognitive Focus

Huberman and Newport discuss the impact of phone usage and social media on attention and cognitive focus. They suggest that many attention issues may be phone-induced, resulting from behavioral addictions rather than a complete neural rewiring. Newport believes these issues can be addressed by changing one’s relationship with their phone and using techniques like boredom exposure and blocking apps.

However, Huberman expresses concern for younger generations who have grown up in a distracted world, as their brains may have optimized for these conditions. He compares it to being raised in a house of distorted mirrors, making it difficult to navigate the world accurately.

Newport questions whether professors have been implicitly adapting the difficulty of their teaching to accommodate reduced cognitive focus capacity. Huberman shares his experience teaching neuroscience using various clip durations and platforms, noting that TikTok represents the extreme of “bubble gum level” information entertainment.

They discuss how TikTok has destabilized traditional social media by prioritizing algorithmic curation over social graphs, making the platform highly addictive. Huberman observes that even adults in their forties and fifties engage with these platforms, proving that they tap into core neural circuits present in everyone.

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