Friday, June 5, 2020

The topic of my discussion piece is relevant to everyone at this time of the century. To understand the importance of the topic let’s begin by considering two social scenarios that almost every one of us has witnessed. First, imagine a party, dinner, or campsite. People are having deep and warm conversations; the overall ambiance is cheerful and electric. We see people with satisfied souls, radiating great vibrations. Now picture a second scenario. This one has the same people and locations as the first, but instead of connecting with each other they are engaged with their phones. They are more concerned about updates on social media than with real-time connections. The overall atmosphere of this second scenario carries a dull aura.

By now, I am sure you understand that what I am referring to is the prevalence of social media and networking tools spreading across the globe, sparing no age group or generation. It is from this epidemic that the fourth ape has evolved in a short span of time. Can anyone guess what form this fourth ape takes? It is a combination of the first three apes that see no one, listen to no one and speak to no one, except now with a gaze fixed only on its phone The metaphor of the proverbial “three wise monkeys” (or apes) has its origins in 17th century Japan. Also, Mahatma Gandhi incorporated the metaphor and kept as a reminder a small statue of the three monkeys.

I was struggling to find an answer on social media prevalence, so I did some research and spoke to a few people about it. I wanted to know:

  1. Are we losing our human connections?
  2. Are we benefitting from over reliance upon networking tools?
  3. Is there any solution or middle ground?

I came across the remarkable Deep Work by a brilliant author named Cal Newport. Newport beautifully explains the pros and cons and effective use of social media, and how to quit social media. He has given an in-depth and compelling explanation backed by strong research.

There is no doubt as to the usefulness of networking tools. It is nothing short of a miracle that an individual can connect to anyone anytime and anywhere in the world. But are we overusing such tools at the cost of losing our focus and becoming more distracted? Human connections are vanishing. We are losing the most important concept of solitude and introducing other problems as solitude fades away.

Solitude is the state of being alone with your thoughts. It is the state of mind when free from the input from of others. Physically you can be part of society, be in a busy mall, traffic, party but psychologically you can still be in solitude with your thoughts away from society But it can disappear in a quieter place with a quick glance at the notifications on your phone. Solitude is not just a current century concept. As 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal famously wrote in Pensées: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

With the unrestricted use of smartphones, solitude is disappearing at the speed of light. Social media platforms are designed on the same principles as slot machines in casinos. In both instances, special engineers known as: “attention engineers” are hired to make people more addicted to their platforms (Newport, 2016).

I decided to experiment for myself. I made a list of platforms I use excessively. I then quit all social media for three weeks. I went completely en bloc. For the first few days I felt as if I was missing a body part. I had severe withdrawal symptoms and felt handicapped. I kept reaching compulsively towards my phone. Half-way through my experiment I started feeling more at ease. I was more conscious of my need and habit of reaching for my phone. By the end of the three weeks I no longer felt the need to use any of the platforms. I used the phone only when needed.

When the experiment was over, I revisited each application to figure out a plan. I determined which applications I needed, the purpose of the application and amount of time spent on it. I was able to find my middle ground:

  1. Facebook: I will use 3 times per week for 10 minute each time rather than four to five times every day
  2. Messenger: I will use for calls
  3. YouTube: I will listen only to a few (less than seven) dedicated subscribers to avoid time wasted on random searches

I do not have any fear of missing out, nor do I feel handicapped. I am still as connected as ever to my family and friends. I am still informed about the world and current events. But who am I am to decide on behalf of anyone else? The decision is yours to make to find out the middle ground or continue walking the path of the fourth ape.


Newport, Cal. “Transcript of ‘Why You Should Quit Social Media.’” TEDxTysons, June 2016


Acknowledgement: Laura Dickson for the support.

This week’s blog comes courtesy of guest blogger Sandeep Kaur. The content within remains the property of the author and all views expressed within are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Epilepsy Association of Calgary. For permission to reproduce the content of this blog post, please contact the author directly.

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