The Need For Digital Minimalism In An Attention Economy

The premise of the attention economy is pretty simple; To maximize profits, users have to be kept online for as long as is possible. With so much content available on the internet for users' consumption, how do we keep users focused and spending much of their time on our platform, social media execs ask themselves.

Since the advent of social media in the late 2000s, attention has become a very valuable commodity for tech companies. It is only when your platform can keep users' attention that you can mine as much data as possible from them. Data = profits. A whole lot of profits.

Like the old saying goes, when elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.  The consequences of the stiff competition between tech giants for users' attention have been dire. What is even worse is that users are mostly oblivious to this detrimental impact of these warring factions. 

The adverse impacts that social media has had on humanity over its decade of existence cannot be overstated enough. The steep rise of mental health issues as social media platforms grew more mainstream is not at all a coincidence. The steep rise in societal polarization as social media platforms became more mainstream is not at all a coincidence. Though correlation is not always causation, in this case, it can be well-argued otherwise.

Over the years, not only have social media giants failed to address these impacts of their platforms on humanity, they have even gone to the point of denying them altogether, and looking at their business model, it should not at all be a surprise. Polarization, the "look-my-life-is-better-than-yours" mindset, and all the other toxic traits of social media grab and keep one thing from users that is valuable to these tech giants—attention.

So if they are gaining literal billions from exploiting users, how can we expect them to do anything to fumble their breadbasket? The dollar will always be prioritized over the welfare and wellbeing of users. The onus hence falls on users to well, look out for themselves, and ensure they are not destroyed by social media. But as one would guess, in a world where social media has become so threaded into the fabric of society, completely eschewing it will prove to be extremely difficult. There is where the concept of digital minimalism comes in.

In his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life In A Noisy World, author Cal Newport defines digital minimalism as "a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else". From its definition, digital minimalism appreciates the need for modern technologies like social media but points out the importance of sieving what is unnecessary noise.

In an attention economy where tech companies are constantly coming up with ways to make us digital zombies whose sole purpose is to line their pockets with our data, digital minimalism helps us to use modern technologies to better ourselves because there is no denying that, the greed of tech companies put aside, modern technology has done and can still do a whole lot for humanity.

Only we, users, have the power to challenge the tech aristocracy. It is our responsibility to well, responsibly use modern technology and escape the prejudice, misinformation, hate, and other ills that come part and parcel with it. The art of digital minimalism gives us that power. The power to claim back our humanity from the grasps of algorithms. The power to escape the digital feudalism which has been imposed on us by tech giants.