Friday, November 25, 2016

Should you quit social media?

The New York Times has an interesting Op-ed. piece Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It, by Cal Newport, a faculty member in computer science at Georgetown University.

When I saw the headline I thought the point was going to be an important one that has been made many times before; people sometimes post stupid stuff on social media and get fired as a result. Don't do it!
However, that is not his point.
Rather, he says social media is bad for two reasons:

1. It is a distraction that prevents deep thinking and sustained  "deep" work. Because you are constantly looking at your phone, tablet, or laptop or posting on it, you don't have the long periods of "quiet" time that are needed for substantial achievement.

2. Real substantial contributions will get noticed and recognised without you constantly "tweeting" or posting about what you are doing or have done. Cut back on the self-promotion.

Overall, I agree.

When I discussed this and my post about 13 hour days with two young scientists at an elite institution they said: "you really have no idea how much time some people are wasting on social media while in the lab." Ph.D students and postdocs may be physically present but not necessarily mentally or meaningfully engaged.

A similar argument for restraint, but with different motivations, is being advocated by Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at MIT. Here is a recent interview.

I welcome discussion.


  1. Yes

    Last I checked my email I had over 600 unreadable.

    What do you do down under there.

    Here in kanadaa we chase the polar bears and dance with them when not cranking out or rather fixing old software.

    It's all work work work.

  2. I agree with your assessment in terms of impact at/on work. I'm happily not active on social media (except for reading and commenting on a few choice blogs...), but I noticed my work is affected by the amount of email I get. It's something I have to consciously manage. It may be less self-centered, but it distracts in similar things. Especially for people (in jobs) that have a penchant for wanting to know things (and being afraid to miss things...?).

    Unfortunately social media does not only affect work; it goes deeper as it quite deeply affects personalities.
    I wonder how the society as a whole will look back on the advent of the social media age.
    A perspective by a NYT journalist that I (also) agree with:

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      The 3 minute video featuring David Brooks is insightful and depressing.
      I think the negative effects of social media on personality and political "debate" are of even greater concern than the negativity effect on our work productivity.

      I agree that email can be a major distraction from "deep work." It is certainly something I struggle with.

  3. Newport's NYT op-ed is a highly condensed version of his recent book "Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World". The book includes a detailed account of how he holds himself accountable to getting research done as a tenure-track faculty member that many readers of this blog would find interesting.

  4. There is subject fluid mechanics which is common to civil , mech and chem eng. Before the advent technology and with small class size , it was a great experience to teach this subject. The sudden emphasis on increase in class size ( it is huge now) in keeping with market forces , accompanied by technology has posed problems to teach this subject. Fluid mechanics for fresher is quite difficult. Two lecturers , with three tutors manage about 180-200 students from the three streams. emails keep on coming from a large number of students who do not come in the gaussian area of above average students. These emails keep on coming thru out the semester any time with you must have a mobile and answer emails asap an important condition. What is the solution for this ? Have more lecturers to divide into small class sizes?