Replied to Can “Indie” Social Media Save Us? (The New Yorker)

As a technology enthusiast, I’m a believer in the IndieWeb movement and think it will play an important role in the future of the Internet. For the exhausted majority of social-media users, however, the appeal of the proverbial quiet bench might outweigh the lure of a better Facebook. In this vision of the future, there will be many more social-media platforms but far fewer people spending significant time on any of them. Social media has reshaped our culture, and this has convinced us that it is fundamentally appealing. Strip away its most manipulative elements, though, and we may find that it’s less rewarding than it seems.

Cal, you have provided an interesting take on the IndieWeb. I must admit I am always mindful and sometimes sceptical about it being the solution for all. As you touch upon, some may simply choose to retreat to the idyllic life.

The only problem I have with this is that it frames the IndieWeb as a response to a specific problem, that is social media. Personally, I see it as a reimagining of blogging and online interaction, as much as it is a solution to social media. As Ben Werdmuller highlights, POSSEing to social media sites has its limits.

One of the things that I value about my IndieWeb site is a record of my interactions. I think that reclaiming this information provides the foundation for even richer explorations.

This framing of social media was something I was left questioning after watching your TED Talk.

Replied to On the Utility Fallacy – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

The point too often missed in a cooly instrumentalist understanding of technology is that we don’t use these tools in a vacuum; we instead participate in complicated social systems that can careen in unforeseen directions when powerful new technological forces are introduced. Features are important, but they’re not the whole story.

I think that the problem of utility comes back to the idea that technology is a system. I liked how Ian Guest captured this in his these on Twitter, especially where he ‘interviewed’ the non-human actors.
Bookmarked Cal Newport on Why We’ll Look Back at Our Smartphones Like Cigarettes (GQ)

The computer scientist on his new book “Digital Minimalism,” why workplaces may go email-free, and why the tech backlash is about to go mainstream.

In this interview with Cal Newport, he compares social media with fast food arguing that we are moving into a period of time when we will develop named philosophies to define our practices. For Newport, Digital Minimalism is one such philosphoy.

Digital minimalism is a clear philosophy: you figure out what’s valuable to you. For each of these things you say, “What’s the best way I need to use technology to support that value?” And then you happily miss out on everything else. It’s about additively building up a digital life from scratch to be very specifically, intentionally designed to make your life much better.

This is in contrast to digital maximalism.

[Maximalism] arose in the 1990s. The basic idea is that technological innovations can bring value and convenience into your life. So, you assess new technological tools with respect to what value or convenience it can bring into your life. And if you can find one, then the conclusion is, “If I can afford it, I should probably have this.” It just looks at the positives. And it’s view is “more is better than less,” because more things that bring you benefits means more total benefits. This is what maximalism is: “If there’s something that brings value, you should get it.”

Newport argues that regulation will not curb social media and that we instead need to understand that we do not really need them.

I’m a skeptic on a lot of privacy legislation, just because I’m a computer scientist who knows it’s very, very hard to even get a sensible definition of what privacy means. So, I personally don’t see the regulatory arena as being what’s gonna save us here. I think what’s gonna save us is this idea that we don’t need the giant walled garden platforms to attract the value of the internet. We would be fine if Facebook went away.

In a separate post, Newport makes the case for blogging and owning your own domain a possible response.

Slow social media and escaping the walled factories of industrial social media are two ways to step toward a more authentic social internet experience. They’re not, however, the only ways. As with my last post on this subject, I’m more interested in sparking new ways of thinking about your digital life than I am in providing you the definitive road map.

via Doug Belshaw

Bookmarked Opinion | Steve Jobs Never Wanted Us to Use Our iPhones Like This (nytimes.com)

Practically speaking, to be a minimalist smartphone user means that you deploy this device for a small number of features that do things you value (and that the phone does particularly well), and then outside of these activities, put it away. This approach dethrones this gadget from a position of constant companion down to a luxury object, like a fancy bike or a high-end blender, that gives you great pleasure when you use it but doesn’t dominate your entire day.

Cal Newport argues that the Steve Jobs’ initial vision for the iPhone was never meant to be a new form of existence where the digital encroached upon the analogue. He therefore calls for a return to the early minimalist days from early on. This is similar to Jake Knapp’s efforts to regain his attention by removing apps and notifications from his smartphone. I still have concerns about the analogue and digital divide and what that actually means. I also think the request for responsibility ignores the systematic concerns associated with smartphones.
Bookmarked On Blogs in the Social Media Age – Study Hacks – Cal Newport by an author

As any serious blog consumer can attest, a carefully curated blog feed, covering niches that matter to your life, can provide substantially more value than the collectivist ping-ponging of likes and memes that make up so much of social media interaction.

This is a useful reflection on the difference between blogging and social media. It was something that I think was left ambiguous from Newport’s TED Talk.