Tim Ferriss made a name for himself by investing in Silicon Valley businesses like Facebook and Twitter. But the author and podcast host now says that while social media can be positive, many people are letting it take over their lives.
He says it might be time to start taking social media “fasts” to break the bad habit.
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Ferriss (@tferriss), author of the new book “Tools of Titans” and host of “The Tim Ferriss Show,” about taking social media fasts, whether Silicon Valley is in another bubble and how tech leaders are dealing with President Trump.
On “social media fasting”
“A ‘social media fast’ is a fast, I suppose like any other. In this case, you’re simply giving up whether it be a device or a particular type of social media site. And I do this at least once weekly. I have screen-free Saturdays, which are effectively electronics free, which of course includes social media. And then, more generally speaking, you could use something like the Facebook news feed eradicator, which is an extension for Chrome to prevent you from accessing the crack cocaine that is your news feed on Facebook. But really the intention is to help you bolster yourself to be more resilient in an economy online, at least, that is based on distraction.”
“I would encourage people to try one day as a starting point. Nothing. And if you can’t go that long without social media, then it’s very indicative of a problem. It’s like a heroin addict who needs methadone, right. And for a lot of people, it will feel like a three-day vacation. Because they won’t even have realized that their new normal is as reactive and stressful as it is. It’s just a low-grade anxiety that follows them all day, so it’s become their new normal. When they take away the social media, for even 24 hours, I recommend a screen-free Saturday, for instance, where you don’t use any computers and if you use your phone, use it only for texting, no apps that are social media related. You can use an Uber or something like that to pick you up, but otherwise, no social media. And it is incredible what a psychological relief it is and how much recovery it allows people to have. So I would say, screen-free Saturdays, start with that.”
On damaging effects of social media
“It’s designed much like a pellet dispenser in a Skinner box to incentivize you to click on things. And once you realize — and I’ve worked in tech and I live in Silicon Valley, involved with a lot of large social media companies — that economics of what they do are predicated on distracting you from your primary task, you realize that you’re being conditioned to become reactive. And I think that whenever you feel reactive or are being reactive as opposed to proactive, that inherently — consciously or subconsciously — creates a lot of stress. And whether it’s social media fasting or reading Stoke philosophy or doing other types of literal fasting with very little to no food, for instance, my goal is always to act proactively and inoculate myself against the whims of fortune, as it were. But when you’re directed by social media, I think it’s very easy to lose a sense of agency. And you can see it when you go to any subway station, you walk down any street in a city, you will see 70-80 percent of people staring into their phones as they walk or stand.”
On negativity on social media
“There is, and the brilliant aspect or one of the brilliant aspects of the internet is that every genius has a voice, whether they’re in New York City or a rural village in Africa. But every idiot also has a voice, and the fact of the matter is that negativity in general rules. It really is ‘Lord of the Flies’ in a sense online. And if you are — let’s just make the assumption that you’re the average of the five people you associate with most — you are constantly subjected and bombarded by negativity, then you will average down to that level. And I’ve seen this certainly in the election cycle, post-election, that people that are normally very optimistic in my social circles who are spending inordinate amount of times online are becoming very negative, very cynical. And that is not empowering, to be responding to every person who in real life you would never have a debate with.
“These are tools that a can be used to incredible means, and have been used in political activism and otherwise, but they make fantastic tools and a terrible master. And I think that is the delineation that we have to make. You know, are you using your technology or is your technology using you? And there is a point where an enabling behavior becomes a compulsive and then disabling behavior. And we’ve already crossed that chasm. It’s just astonishing to me, but not surprising in some respects, how dependent we are on the somewhat meaningless and certainly ephemeral feedback that we get from strangers on the internet. I think that’s a dangerous dependence to develop.”
On President Trump’s use of social media
“I think that he’s been very intelligent in many respects in how he’s used social media and he’s been able to get billions by maybe hundreds of billions of free media impressions from people who claim to dislike him. So there’s a certain Jedi mind trick genius to it, but if I am in a world with, say, political saturation or religious saturation, any debate where the opposing side, let’s say, in any argument, is not going to change their minds, there’s no data you could provide to either side that is going to convince anyone to change their positions, then I opt out. So in any political cycle, not just limited to President Trump, I tend to take a timeout and come back when the dust is settled somewhat.”
On a tech bubble in Silicon Valley
“I think that we always go in boom-and-bust cycles. I have not been investing for two years because the signal-to-noise ratio had become very difficult for me as an individual without a fund and a firm behind me. But I think that question may be above my pay grade, but I’m not worried about whether we’re in a bubble or not. The good companies will survive, the good entrepreneur will remain, and there’s blood in the streets at some point, it could be soon, it will happen eventually, then that’s when I will re-enter the scene, pick up some of the pieces and invest in the die-hard entrepreneurs who remain, instead of the fair-weather entrepreneurs who came in when everything seemed safe.
“…I will say those are your words not mine. But I will say we’ve had it good for a very, very long time, and I find it hard to believe that it will last forever. Since I’ve been through two cycles already in Silicon Valley myself, having moved here in '99, 2000, there is a natural ebb and flow to these things and we’ve had the fatted calf for a long time now.”
On how the tech world is adjusting to President Trump
“Poorly. I think the tech world, there are some who are I think looking at it in a long-term, proactive and positive way. The vast majority of people in tech or who surround themselves by people in tech are being very reactive. And I think focusing on the negative, and certainly you can choose to do that. But ultimately, I think it’s important to recognize that, as president of the United States, he has the power to affect positive change if he so choose. I wish more tech leaders would focus on how they could help inform those potential decisions and steer the ship one or two degrees or more in a direction that they view as positive, as opposed to simply complaining on the internet.”
On whether tech leaders’ meeting with Trump was a good thing
“Absolutely. I do, 100 percent. I don’t see the upside to opting out of it. I think it would be irresponsible to try not to affect change in this administration.”