Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.

Nov 21, 2016

By Cal Newport

I’m a millennial computer scientist who also writes books and runs a blog. Demographically speaking I should be a heavy social media user, but that is not the case. I’ve never had a social media account.

At the moment, this makes me an outlier, but I think many more people should follow my lead and quit these services. There are many issues with social media, from its corrosion of civic life to its cultural shallowness, but the argument I want to make here is more pragmatic: You should quit social media because it can hurt your career.

This claim, of course, runs counter to our current understanding of social media’s role in the professional sphere. We’ve been told that it’s important to tend to your so-called social media brand, as this provides you access to opportunities you might otherwise miss and supports the diverse contact network you need to get ahead. Many people in my generation fear that without a social media presence, they would be invisible to the job market.


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5 comments on “Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.

  • I thought this was an intriguing, but ultimately myopic thesis. Professor Cal Newport is a computer scientist, and an author, and he does bring up a number of intrinsically valuable ideas about the effects of distraction and lack of focus. However, his premise appears to be based on his on personal experience in his own field and his “research on successful professionals” on which he didn’t elucidate. Can social media hurt your career? Yes, perhaps, but what is your career and what role does marketing and advertising play in it? Is branding important in every career? Certainly personal branding is important, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that social media will connect you with the people that need to know your brand. When using social media for career or business advancement, some important questions arise: What types of contacts are you looking to make? What kinds of contacts are you actually making, and are they leading to real, useful relationships, or are you simply “collecting likes” instead of leading to outcomes that forward your purpose.

    Not every person wants to be, needs to be, or can be a prolific social media user, but I’ll argue that in certain contexts, it is a powerful business, and personal, tool that should be used wisely and with forethought, not just because everyone is doing it. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Excellent advice by Steve Martin, but again, you must consider the type of career, the industry, the person’s physical location and many other factors in order to make a reasoned choice about whether social media is a good fit for your goals.

    He mentioned that people often ask “What’s the harm” of social media, and on this point I firmly agree that there can be significant harm to a career or business, or even a personal life. Social media use can mask time and energy wasting efforts and lead to a reduction in actual income-producing (insert other pertinent goals) activities and provide little return on investment. So that needs to be a calculated and balanced decision, not a situation when you go with the flow. Heavy use of social media can be damaging in other ways as well – a time-suck, a distraction and yes, it can can also lead to passivity in professional achievement as Professor Newport mentions.

    But to make such a broad statement about the dangers of social media use without providing much evidence is rather simplistic. Savvy business people, professionals and individuals in general, are able to evaluate the pros and cons of social media use, and select the right tools to advance their goals. Assuming that a social media presence is inherently good and positive is a newbie mistake. Use it like the tool it is, and use your head.

    Social media is a powerful tool for reaching people that might never gain personal access to information, ideas and people because of their unique personal life situations. This website just shared Professor Newport’s article with an entirely different, though likely overlapping, group of people than the NY Times followers. As with any other tool for extending your reach, wise and considered use is vital, but slamming it as a fad and a useless distraction is unwise in my opinion.



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  • I took one look at Facebook and Twitter and said “This is for people too stupid to write HTML and set up a web page. They serve up this insulting pablum because they won’t put out the tiniest effort, even a website generator. I have no interest in talking to these people.



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  • Hi Melissa [#1],

    Certainly personal branding is important …

    It seems to me that the word branding is getting in the way of understanding here.

    In essence: Human beings use personal reputations in order to construct social connections and models of social behaviour are key to determining social rank.

    … but that doesn’t necessarily mean that social media will connect you with the people that need to know your [reputation]

    That’s not how it works. People judge each other all the time, people will judge me whether I like it or not because they have an in-built need to classify my reputation and extend that to my social standing.

    When using social media for career or business advancement, some important questions arise: What types of contacts are you looking to make?

    I agree that these sites can be used to enhance reputation, and that this offers opportunities for improving one’s social standing by re-writing the narrative of your life. We all do it, and we’ve been doing it since way before the Net.

    … to make such a broad statement about the dangers of social media use without providing much evidence is rather simplistic

    I don’t understand your comment here. The Net is available to all – go and look – just how much data do you need?

    Savvy business people, professionals and individuals in general, are able to evaluate the pros and cons of social media use …

    Yes, there are cool-headed automatons out there who never put a foot wrong. Your point would be?

    Assuming that a social media presence is inherently good and positive is a newbie mistake

    Yes, and that explains Facebook and Twitter ‘suicides’. The Net is unforgiving, and rarely forgets. Whatever you do, don’t make a mistake because that is the ultimate sin.

    … slamming it as a fad and a useless distraction is unwise in my opinion

    On what data?

    You are welcome to your opinion. My opinion – based on the facts of the mountains of evidence presented, publicly, by these sites themselves is that the correct name for this phenomenon is anti-social media. The data is in every Twitter and Facebook account – vacuous, pseudo-factual, time-wasting is too kind a description for 90% of what I see. Anti-social media is the biggest single waste of the most limited human resource – time – since the invention of religion.

    Anti-social media is rapidly replacing religions as the go-to place for hasty moral judgements, over-generalizations, over-simplifications, post-fact interaction, social snobbery, political diatribe and character assassination.

    Count me out.

    Peace.



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