TMBA 479: Quitting Social Media - “The ‘Walled Garden’ Experiment Is a Big Failure”

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On today’s episode, Dan and Ian are delighted to welcome one of their favorite authors back to the show.

Cal Newport is a Computer Science professor, who has spent his career writing about the intersection of technology and culture in the contemporary digital age.

Cal joins us this week to talk about his new book, Digital Minimalism, which is all about the dangers and distractions of social media.

This interview covers a broad range of topics, including the psychology behind the “Walled Gardens” of social media, why Cal invited 1,600 people to go on a month-long “Digital Declutter”, how we can develop a philosophy to improve the way that we interact with technology in our lives, and much, much more.


Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • How social media has discouraged people from having high quality conversations. (4:06)
  • The mental health problems that an entire generation who have grown up with technology are facing. (12:41)
  • What it means to be a “Digital Minimalist”. (18:37)
  • Why social media is not a foundational technology. (28:22)
  • The true value of living an intentional life. (46:15)

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Published on 02.07.19
  • I love this message guys. This is why I rarely get phone minutes on my phone while circling the globe. For what? Minus basic directions, I’d be checking social versus creating helpful content.

  • Tim Leffel

    I like Cal’s work and he is a wise man, but he lost me at the end when he said, “I’ve never had a social media account.” If so, that’s like Jeff Sessions telling me decent people don’t smoke pot or the celibate priest telling teenage me that I shouldn’t have sex until I get married. He knows best?! While I spend less time on my phone than nearly anyone I know, Facebook has been tremendously helpful to my business. Besides the substantial amount of traffic it sends to those long, thoughtful blog posts you were saying we need more of, the business groups I belong to on there have been instrumental in my success.

    Yeah, I could send e-mails to 20 people or make 30 phone calls to get an answer to a thorny problem. Or I could post it in a private Facebook group where the smartest of my peers hang out and have a bunch of great suggestions within 24 hours. By not spending any time on the platform, he is only seeing the evil side and not the positive community side that does exist. Yes, the company is evil in a lot of ways, and the platform is intentionally addictive I agree. But many of my real-life friends, people who have stayed at my house eventually and have socialized for hours (without phones), I met originally through FB groups. In some ways, they are just a replacement for the old message boards that have been around since the 90s, but in most respects they work better. I don’t agree that people would just shrug if these went away. For many of us, our businesses would suffer. (Instagram, however, I would cheer the demise of tomorrow because that’s just cotton candy fluff…)

  • Paul Bleisch

    Hey Tim, I think you would fall in the category of “Social Media Pros” that was discussed in the episode. Those that use social media in a professional capacity and do not partake recreationally. I took Cal’s comment about not having a social media account as admitting that he doesn’t believe he needs to use it professionally.

  • Tim Leffel

    I use it for both. I have reconnected with a lot of old friends I had lost touch with and use the FB groups for local events I wouldn’t know about otherwise. Without having any social accounts, I would be far less social in a physical sense in my city.

  • Great episode. I also lament the demise of the high-quality blogs. I’m trying to fly the flag, but it’s hard… because people spend so much time on social media :-(

  • Tim’s got it, I feel – social media (and tech in general) is meant to be a tool, to help free up time to do other things or to enhance the enjoyment of some aspect of life; not supplant life itself. The ‘walled garden’ term is a great metaphor for this phenomenon, a perversion of real interactions by manicuring the settings and forcing growth in perhaps unnatural ways. I just wonder what the finished topiary of my virtual life might look like when Zuckerberg is done with the garden shears hahaha

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