It’s 2pm. You have nothing to do at work. You’re bored. You decide to be a bit mischievous so you open a new tab, type ‘f-a-c.’ Auto-fill. Enter. You tilt your screen away from your coworkers, eyes basking in the dopamine goldmine we call Facebook.
“15 places you need to see before you die”
Click. Read. Click. Read. Click. Read
415pm. Tha fuck. I think the clock broke.
If this is you, you’re fat. No, no not the diabetes one, fortunately. You’re getting fat on content. DUN DUN DUN. *Gasp* *Gasp* *Gasp*
Unfortunately for me, this is karmic revenge for my fat shaming youth. I am getting fat too 🙁
I claim all credit. I am coining the term content obesity.
Content Obesity: Over-consumption of content
Scatter-brained: The thoughts in you’re head are flying at 1000mph, bouncing off the walls of your skull. You’re unable to focus deeply on one thought. At night, you’re unable to turn off your motor-engine of thoughts.
Starter of many, finisher of none: You get excited and start online courses, new projects, workout plans, books, only to lose focus and jump onto the next thing that catches your eye. You always ride the initial motivational wave to start new things, but you don’t ride the wave through.
Analysis-Paralysis: You have a constant need to acquire more information before making a decision, but in reality, you’re just procrastinating on the decision.
Phone/Social Media/Laptop Addiction: During breaks or periods of boredom, your phone/social media/laptop has a gravitational force that pulls your eyes onto the screen. You have a discomfort and inability to deal with boredom, so your brain takes a couple hits from the medium, and then feels satisfied.
Yes, I am here to make fun of all you losers who are content obese. Wait. I’m content obese. Shit. I’m probably fatter than you. I WIN!!!!! YES!!!!!
Sorry, for some reason, I feel like being weird. I don’t know why. Fat probably clogging up my arteries. Anyways, I’m not looking to get information diabetes, so this post is more for myself. Must….. conquer….. content obesity!!!! Get your popcorn ready and wish me luck! Wait, popcorn makes me fat. Nevermind.
Fred’s Fried Five Finger Rules
I don’t know why I’m calling it this. It doesn’t make any sense. But it starts with ‘F’ four times in a row. Catchy.
Finger #1: No Problem, No Point:
Another catchy title. More points for me. Alright, enough bullshitting around. Let’s get serious.
No problem, no point is pretty simple: If a piece of content does not address a specific problem or question in my life, I will not read it.
Let me explain.
Programmers are wearing a mask. Clueless folks with non-technical backgrounds(like me) have this image of a programmer furiously banging away at their keys, red bull in hand, bleary eyed, like this guy:
In reality, programmers wear a mask. This mask says ” I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!!!!” But in reality, they don’t. How do I know this? I don’t. I’m making faulty assumptions. But I’m 99%( some room for error) sure they slip on the condom and make love to Google all night.
How do I make this button jump to that web page?
How do I rotate this object 45 degrees?
How do I change the size of the text box?
Question → Google → Answer → add into code. Programmers are figuring shit out on the go.
This is just-in-time learning. We consume a piece of content when a problem/question asks for it.
School, on the other hand, teaches us just-in-case learning. The idea is that we stuff a bunch of crap in our brains and pray that we use the knowledge at some point in our lives. It’s like a fat kid eating as much McDonalds as he can and prays he eventually burns the calories. Wait, this analogy doesn’t work that well. I just wanted to make fun of fat kids eating at McDonalds. Sorry.
For content consumption, most people( including me) use the just-in-case strategy. Consume a ton of information that may or may not be useful.
To avoid mushin up my brain too much, I now adopt a just-in-time strategy for information. I only consume content that answers a question or solves a problem in my life. No more binge-eating at the buffet.
To-Stop: Consuming content that does not address a specific problem or question in my life.
Note: There’s a difference between tactical knowledge( How to polish your resume) and philosophical knowledge( How selection bias affects your decision-making). In context of this post, I’m mainly talking about tactical knowledge.
Finger #2: Technology is a tool, not entertainment
Steve Jobs spitting some wise words:
“I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.
And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”
Computer is a tool. Not entertainment. Same concept applies to smartphones.
Here’s a challenge for you. Grab a timer. When you wake up in the morning, time yourself and see how long you can go without checking your smartphone. Oh, your timer is on your phone? You lose. Please send your paypal payments to email@example.com
After traveling to 17 countries in two years, I noticed: EVERYONE IS ADDICTED TO THEIR PHONES!!!
New form of torture: tie people to a chair and place a phone in front of them. Tie their hands back. Make sure that their facebook has 20 notifications. Or purposely have friends send continuous snapchats. The gravitational pull of that red dot/message will be painful. GSGSGRRSINVSINRSVSR. M-U-S-T C-L-I-C-K N-O-T-I-F-I-C-A-T-I-O-N-S. Pshh, and they waterboard people.
And when we’re not on our phones, we’re probably using a computer. But let’s take a step back and ask:
Are we using it as a tool, like Jobs said? Or are we using it as entertainment?
The next part is just me thinking about where technology is used as a tool versus entertainment. It’s not that interesting, so feel free to skip this list. Just need to articulate it for myself:
- Used as a Tool
Medium of Communication: The ability to communicate with other human beings in order to socialize, collaborate and connect.
- Social Media
- Messaging Applications
Research: Culling the internet for answers to the problems & questions in my life.
- Mainly Google
- Specific Software/Applications
- Niche websites
Learning: The ability to acquire useful knowledge from people all over the world.
- Any online course platform
- Niche websites
Creation: To create pieces of value that add value to others’ lives. I.e writing, programming, videos etc.
- Software/Applications( iMovie, Word, Powerpoint etc.)
Organization: A medium to store important files and information in one location.
Shopping: Purchasing items that I need in everyday life (clothes, books, toiletry, appliances).
Discovery: Finding and discovering events, music, interesting things.
- Music Platforms: Spotify, iTunes, Youtube, Blogs
- Any event website( Livenation, Flavorus etc.)
Internet Browsing: Clicking through hyperlinks, websites, videos that have information that may or may not be useful to my life.
Binge-Watching: Clicking through endless youtube videos. Netflix marathons.
Social Media ‘checking’: Stalking acquiantances profiles. Scrolling through social media algorithmic feeds.
We shouldn’t eliminate entertainment. But rather, improve the tool-entertainment ratio. Music is fucking amazing. Who would give that up?!? But there’s an opportunity cost to everything. Locking myself in my apartment and just dickin around online means that I’m not socializing, being active or meeting new people. I am a online dicker-arounder king:
I’m not going to quit saying stupid shit. But dicking around comes in other forms: falling in the youtube-watching rabbithole, buzzfeed, mindless social media ‘checking’ etc.
And what I noticed, is that most people start dicking around when there’s space. Time for me to switch into Zen mode.
Most people are uncomfortable with space. Lulls in conversation, waiting for someone to pick them up, “nothing to do” is a trigger for people to whip out their phones to ‘check things.’
Going for the quick hit of our phone deteriorates our appreciation for the beauty surrounding all of us. It’s always there, but we subconsciously escape it. The ONLY time I think it’s okay to use your phone with other people is to capture the beauty of the moment, not escape it.
I don’t want to do this. So my action steps:
- Using my phone/computer as default home activity. Only use phone or computer when a specific free-time activity requires it( listed later).
- Using my phone outside of my house except for practical needs( GPS, finding a friend etc.).
Rule #3: Intention and Limits
An easy argument against everything I said is, but web-browsing is how I discover new, cool shit!!.
Totally agree. I discovered a lot of new shit through the endless clicks of the internet.
So I want to make a distinction. There is a difference between web-surfing and research. The difference is intentionality. If I’m actively looking for new workouts by clicking through hyperlinks, I’m doing research. If I stumble onto a new workout by clicking through a trail of random hyperlinks, I’m web-surfing. For research, the process would look like( to clarify for myself):
- Clarify question: Where can I find short, quick cardio intensive workouts?
- Define end of research( because it can be forever): 5 collected workouts that I can do with my available equipment
- Go find answer to the question: Endless Googling till answer(s) arrives
I can still discover cool shit, but rather than discover new things through distraction, I discover through focus.
In addition to research, what about all the blogs/communities I’m a part of. Once again, it comes to intentionality.
Reading blogs and participating in online communities can become another escape from reality to ‘check things.’ But similar to research, it’s about using these mediums, not as a source of distraction, but a source of focus. This means reading and participating with intentionality, not as some activity to ‘fill the space.’ How do I do this? By setting time limits and actually scheduling my time to read blogs( still using rule #1) and participate in communities.
- Web-surfing. Discover new shit through research.
- Limit blog reading + blog comments + forums to 15 minutes per day. I will save long-form, interesting blog posts to Evernote for ‘reading’ time.
- Unsubscribe to any blogs or newsletters in my inbox that I don’t regularly open.
Finger #4: No more Self-Help Masturbation
Any dude that likes getting his dick sucked, likes watching porn. They fantasize about fucking the shit out of that porn star. Feels real. Feels good. But they’re not getting laid.
Reading self-help books feels productive. Feels real. Feels good. Just like jerkin off. But still not getting laid.
Putting self-help to practice is the hard part. Going out and meeting women is the hard part.
A lot of self-help books contain that rah-rah feel good, inspiration. If you don’t read, it probably has some benefit. But after a certain point, everybody just starts saying the same thing and if you’re not applying, the ROI is minimal.
Most self-help books require a specific call-to-action. For example, 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Book that teaches you how to craft the life of your dreams( like most self-help books). But the book isn’t really useful unless you’re putting his tips into practice( i.e creating income auto-pilot, getting a virtual assistant, comfort challenges etc.)
And if I’m reading three self-help books at the same time, applying all the advice is nearly impossible. It’s time I cleanse my reading diet:
- Prioritize books on philosophy, fiction, storytelling, biographies, history, any book that improves my understanding of the world.
- Limit myself to 2 self-help/business books MAX per month. I am not allowed to read them simultaneously. This allows ample time to apply the learned knowledge to my life without overloading my brain. Follow Rule #1, the book(s) must solve a real problem in my life and I must apply all the relevant knowledge.
Books that fall under this category( just so I have a clear mental image):
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Originals by Adam Grant
Any book Seth Godin writes
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Finger #5: Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis of all Social Media Tools
Alright, time to put on my analytical hat. As we’ve established, technology is a tool. Therefore, social media is also a tool.
I quit all forms of social media for about two months. The goal was to see the real benefit social media had on my life.
Time to do an over the top, cost-benefit analysis of all my social media tools.
Cal Newport’s Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection:
Definition: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
Core factors that determine success and happiness in my professional and personal life:
- Being present: Success with this factor leads to everything else. To be fully engaged in whatever activity I’m doing at the moment. When I’m present with friends, conversations flow effortlessly, filled with laughter and deep bonding. When I’m present while working, creative ideas and thoughts surface more frequently. When I’m present in exercise, I have better form, controlled breathing and can push harder.
- Focus: Writing 3000+ word blog posts requires a ton of focus. Learning how to freestyle rap requires a ton of focus. Getting shit done requires focus.
- Laughter: Simple, it just makes me happy.
- Adventure: Doing crazy, new interesting things.
I asked myself these two questions:
- Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?
- Which core factors did the tool cultivate? Which did it hurt?
- Tool to set up face-to-face interaction.
- Connecting with friends outside physical vicinity.
- FB events notifies me of interesting things that happen.
- Newsfeed is a distraction.
- 90% useless content( i.e buzzfeed, adsha) takes up mental RAM.
Conclusion: When I quit FB, I had difficulty setting up meetings with friends. People did notice that I wasn’t using the service. On the other hand, not using the service focused me on my own life. I felt happier and had much more presence. I could still use FB messenger as communication tool but not the newsfeed. KEEP
- Keep up to date with favorite athletes, celebrities, A-list people
- Ask questions.
- Content on twitter does not solve a problem. See Rule #1
- Distracting feed causes rabbithole clicking
Conclusion: The distracting nature of bite-sized pieces of information not only causes me to be distracted, but hurts my ability to actually finish books. My brain gets used to the quick hits, of 140 word bite-sized pieces of information. Most content posted does not solve a problem for me. I already follow certain people through e-mail newsletters. Easy choice. ELIMINATE
- Connect with others through creativity.
- Beautiful photos and artwork.
- View special, fun moments of others’ lives.
- Seeing other peoples’ lives causes natural comparison.
- Feed can be a source of distraction( but not as bad as other platforms).
- Taking picture of moment(without artistic intention) often hurts my appreciation of that moment.
Conclusion: Checking up on what people are doing with their lives, often leads me to question my own life. This could be a good thing, but in this case, it doesn’t help me stay focused. I also prefer writing and drawing as a creative outlet( hence, this blog). Therefore, cost far outweighs the benefit here. ELIMINATE
- Connect with others by sharing moments of life.
- Snaps can be funny and make me laugh.
- Keep up to date with friends.
- Requires energy to pull out my phone throughout the day.
- Pulling out my phone to take pictures hurts my appreciation of that moment.
- Snapchat Story’s are addictively distracting.
Conclusion: This one was pretty close. For me, snapchat requires significant energy. I’m not habitualized to pull out my phone when I see something cool. Main benefit comes from funny snaps. Snapchat Story feed follow same theme of all other social media platforms: distracting. At this point, the upfront cost to integrate snapchat into my life isn’t worth the benefit. My energies could be used for better returns. ELIMINATE
Nobody cared that I wasn’t using the service. People still found ways to contact me, whether through text or e-mail.
Of course, cost-benefits always change depending on circumstances and time. The one thing I SHOULDN’T do is be dogmatic with my beliefs and relentlessly stick to my decisions here. At this point in my life, my focus is on my own projects and trying lots of things. Anything that takes energy and attention away from that is a distraction. It’ll probably change in the future.
Default Free-time Activities
Main theme in this post is:
I should not rely on the internet to entertain myself.
Arnold Bennett, author of How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, has an awesome quote:
“Great and profound mistake which my typical man makes in regard to his day…… he persists in looking upon those hours from ten to six as ‘the day,’ to which the ten hours preceding them and the six hours following them are nothing but a prologue and epilogue.”
For those who think they need the internet to entertain themselves, you’re wrong. Read a book. Go outside and play a sport. Attend a meetup. Learn a new skill. Write.
For me, to avoid the lure of the internet, I’m establishing a list of default free-time activities:
Outside the house:
- Spending quality time with friends
- Sports & Exercise (surfing, basketball, hiking, football etc. )
- Any event that forces me to meet new people
- Meditation Center
Inside the house:
- Learning something new
- Writing blog posts
- Reading books
- Career Research
- Freestyle rapping
Now to aggregate my entire list:
- Consuming content that does not address a specific problem in my life. Exceptions: Philosophical, experiential knowledge.
- Using phone in presence of others except for practical needs.
- Using my phone and computer as source of entertainment. Only use as tools.
- Web-surfing. Do research instead.
- Limit blog reading + blog comments + forums to 15 minutes per day. Save long-form, interesting blog posts to Evernote for ‘reading’ time.
- Reading any blogs or newsletters in my inbox that I don’t regularly open.
- Limit myself to two business/self-help books per month MAX, spend more time applying than reading. Prioritize books that improve my thinking, expand my view of the world, great storytelling.
- Limit online courses to only one at a time.
- Keep FB messenger. Eliminate newsfeed, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat.
Pretty simple. Do the default free-time activities. Stop everything on to-stop list.
My number one goal right now is exploration. Exploration involves lots of learning, meeting new people, trying lots of things and seeing where my natural proclivities take me. All my default free-time activities either addresses this goal or nourishes my health and happiness.
Content obesity reduces my cognitive capacity to make smart decisions. The opportunity cost of holding garbage in my brain, means less space dedicated to connecting with friends, learning new things and new experiences. More important, it destroys my ability to be present.
I actually think most people SHOULDN’T follow what I wrote. It’s specific to me, my values, habits and lifestyle. But I encourage you to think about how much investment you put towards the technology around you. Perhaps, you have a passion for social media and internet browsing. Great, there are careers for that. Perhaps, you’re an instagram superstar and you use the platform to communicate with your audience. Cool. But just remember, you don’t work for technology. Technology is there to work for you.