The Focus Course

Developing a Technology Philosophy to Fight for Margin

We know that the foods we eat affect our physical body.

If you adopt a steady diet of fast food, soft drinks, and sugary candy, it won’t be long before your body starts letting you know it isn’t getting the proper nutrients it needs.

We also know that we need regular exercise to keep our bodies fit. The combination of a balanced diet with regular exercise results in general good health.

But what about for our mental and emotional selves?

What sort of food we should be eating or avoiding to promote mental health? What sort of exercise leads to emotional and mental health?

There is a direct correlation between the types of stimulus or inputs we consume and the effects they have on our mental state. In the same way that we need a philosophy around the foods we eat, we need a philosophy for the technology we use.

Technology and Margin

The last few decades have held some ground-breaking technology advancements.

From the internet to smartphones, and tablets to smartwatches.

The lightning-fast pace of technology advancement has left most of us still trying to decipher if these tools are something we truly need or want to adopt in our lives.

While these advances have opened up never before dreamed of opportunities, they have also brought with them new sets of challenges.

Namely, a challenge that Cal Newport has coined as solitude deprivation.

Solitude Deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.

With the development of the walkman, portable CD players, and eventually the iPod, society was slowly given access to more inputs more frequently. When the smartphone arrived in the mid-2000s, it changed the landscape completely.

Overnight, constant 24/7 connectedness became possible.

As apps and smartphones advanced, the erosion of solitude was swift. You could now listen to a podcast while checking email, responding to a text message, and bouncing between social feeds, any time you like.

While technology may not be inherently good or bad, the results of a life continually connected are not good.

Eating a double cheeseburger from McDonalds every once in a while isn’t going to kill you. It may not have much to offer your body by way of nutrients, but in general, you’ll be fine.

Now, eating a steady diet of double cheeseburgers every day for a few weeks or months, that’s a different story.

As technology became more advanced, so too did the business models.

Social media services were no longer just a fancier version of a blog or forum, they became multi-billion dollar entities. This new business model revolves around how much time a user spends on their platform.

As it turns out, the addictive nature to social tools may not be because we simply enjoy the time we spend on these services, but becuase these services invest millions of dollars to engineer their platform to be more addictive.

Compulsive use … is not the result of a character flaw, but instead the realization of a massively profitable business plan. — Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Getting a handle on how much time you spend on services like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter isn’t about having more self-control. You’re up against silicon valley and some of the smartest people in the world.

So what’s the big deal? Why should you and I care about how much time we’re spending on social media platforms or plugged in to our smartphone?

Solitude deprivation, as it turns out, has a massive impact on our emotional and mental well-being.

When solitude is removed from our day-to-day life, and we’re on the receiving end of a never-ending fire-house of information from all these services, our minds have no space to process our own thoughts.

A connected life void of solitude leads to emotional and mental overwhelm.

If we hope to regain emotional and mental margin, we are in desperate need of a technology philosophy — a clear strategy for what technologies we choose to embrace and those we decide to pass on.

We Need a Technology Philosophy

Simply put, a technology philosophy is a manifesto of what technology you’ll embrace and why.

This manifesto becomes your saving grace when it comes to choosing which types of services you’ll use and which will be cut.

As we’ve witnessed first hand in the last decade, not having a technology philosophy and adopting social norms results in anything but margin.

Without taking pause to selectively choose our technology practices, we’ll end up like everyone else: mentally and emotionally exhausted, suffering from solitude deprivation.

While it is not the only technology philosophy, a good place to start would be with Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.

Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.

Essential Technology

So how do we move from a technology philosophy that adopted any new shiny gadget or software, to a ’carefully selected and optimized’ set of services and tools?

Professor and author Cal Newport suggests a digital declutter.

(You can read more about the digital declutter in Cal’s book Digital Minimalism)

The basic process is:

  1. Defining Your Technology Rules: Which tools are absolutely necessary to everyday life and work.

  2. Take a Thirty-Day Break: Take a hard break from anything that isn’t on your essential list of technology.

  3. Reintroduce Technology: With the clarity gained from thirty days away from these services, decide which you will reintroduce to your lifestyle and which you will permanently remove.

The point of the digital declutter is to gain clarity about the role of various technologies and the purpose they serve in our life.

Making objective decisions about what technologies are essential is hard to do when mentally overwhelmed.

Clarity comes from a process of detoxing from the mental and emotional overwhelm. Only then are we able to more wholly decipher what technology serves our values.

A digital declutter is the first step.

Wrap Up

To summarize, the exponential advances of technology have sped by faster than we’ve been able to keep up with.

By default, our society has adopted new tools and services that have all but completely removed our ability to be alone.

Solitude deprivation plays a massive role in the erosion of emotional and mental margin.

If we are going to make lasting change about the ways that we interact with technology, we need a technology philosophy.

This manifesto is a collection of guiding principles that help us navigate the uses of social media and other technologies.

All of this is to help us identify what essential technology we will adopt in our life and, ultimately, help us restore margin to our life.

Hero Image by Amy Hanley via Unsplash.

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