That title is a paraphrase of a byline from an article on the New York Times website. It also appeared in print in the Business Section on page 8 on November 20, 2016. Cal Newport, the author of the article, claims that by continually monitoring your social media sites, you reduce your ability to achieve success in your working life. “Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated,” he says. “The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about.” In other words, it requires an ability to put distractions aside and work. The ability to put aside distractions in order to focus on a specific task is becoming a hot commodity in the professional workplace. Social media can diminish that ability because it is by its very nature addictive. Your brain craves that instant hit of recognition, to the detriment of deep, unencumbered thinking.
“The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you’re serious about creating things that matter,” says Newport. He purposefully does not have any social media accounts–he’s a computer scientist who writes books and also runs a blog. His conscious decision to remove himself from the world of social media in order to focus more completely on his work is counter to what many think of as a way to find opportunities they might otherwise not discover, and to cultivate contacts that will help with future job promotion.
I’ve seen the diminishment of the ability to concentrate and focus firsthand among my high school students. They can’t go more than a few minutes without checking in with the monster in their hand. The idea that “smartphones” (quotations mine) are here to stay and we have to work with them in education is a double-edged sword. We got along fine without them 10-15 years ago. And I’m not saying that there’s any way to go back–the addiction to these attention-sucking monsters affects more than 80 percent of young adults who say they “couldn’t live without” their electronic device.
At some point, of course, I hope the pendulum will swing back, and that people will find a way to cure their addiction and re-engage with each other and with their work. Employers are looking for people who can collaborate with one another to solve problems, and it doesn’t mean via Skype or Snapchat. Face to face communication will remain a dynamic part of working life, as will being able to work independently and deeply on projects. Hopefully (I seem to use that work a lot), people will be able to set aside their instant connection devices and live up to their employer’s expectations. I shudder to think what will happen if they do not.