Depth and The Digital – How To Bypass the Superficial Smartphone

You will never know the depths when living life on the surface.

The world we live in makes access to the surface easy. A smartphone can do incredible things. But unconscious usage of it dumbs us down.

Unconscious consumption requires nothing and gives us a surface-level understanding of information.

This is because social media is optimized for the next dopamine hit and we will always look for something new.

Depth is the opposite. Depth is patient. Meticulous. It forgoes the expedient for the worthwhile.

Sadly, when human nature is to seek pleasure over pain, we may live never touching depth.

We need to work to survive and our careers give us depth. That is true – the world will cease with the lack of expertise. I’m just saying that technology gives us easy access to the surface while overlooking depth. However, it may have always been like that because technology makes life easier and by definition, depth is arduous. It is even harder to access when we have technology in our pockets pumping an endless stream of surface nonsense.

This post is about how to turn the tables on technology and leverage it for depth instead.

How Technology Uses Us

They say that if something is free, then chances are you’re being sold.

With social media, it is no secret that your attention is the currency. The developers optimized for this and have even banned their children from using these apps. They know the backend of these apps while we front-end users don’t realize what makes it addictive.

Thankfully, the internet is rich with information.

Behavioural psychology says a learned behaviour follows this sequence: trigger, behaviour, and reward or punishment. We cease to do things we were punished for and do more of the things which elicit reward. BJ Fogg, in his Behaviour Design Laboratory at Stanford, took this model and with the help of his students, embedded it into the tech we’re all hooked on today.

Why did they have to make it this way? Because attention is profit for social media companies. To keep us hooked, companies hijack the rewards we get from being social into a learned behaviour

There is nothing inherently wrong with this if social media is used to stay social and truly connected. The problem arises when it’s no longer used that way. Instead, when it’s used for passive consumption and ad revenue, it gives us a surface-level understanding of things at the sacrifice of depth. You know you use social media this way when you close the app feeling numb. We’ve all been there; that’s the nature of a cheap dopamine reward.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Our technology can enrich our lives with depth.

We just have to design it a particular way.

Optimizing Your Cell Phone for Depth

Deleting the Infinite Scroll

Treading water is for staying on the surface and using apps with an infinite scroll is like treading water.

Delete them and you’re forced to dive deeper into topics for entertainment.

Replacing the infinite scroll with apps like Reader by Readwise or Mastodon. They lack the infinite scroll and allow you to curate what content you consume. Replacing the infinite scroll with content you purposefully curate yourself is a step toward depth.

Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are the enemies of depth – these platforms are to be obliterated unless you want to stay treading.

However, if you want to keep YouTube, I’d recommend curating playlists for the week ahead and dipping into its contents for the duration of your week. In this way, you finish a full-length video and cultivate depth in doing so.

Replace Surface Level Habits with Deep Learning

You can scroll or you can stay.

Watch with intent or stray.

By default, you stray as a passive consumer. You will stay that way unless your relationship with technology changes. Most of the day revolves around tech anyway, so why not be a conscious consumer?

To do that, we need to be aware of our surface-level consuming habits and counter them with ones that cultivate deep learning:

  • Long-form content over short-form
  • Podcasts over tik toks
  • Books and newsletters over tweets

I feel worse after a stint on Twitter compared to a good reading session. I’d take a clear, organized mind over one that is muddled with shorts, Tiktoks and tweets.

People always talk about how we are at the beck and call of social media algorithms.

No, we’re not! There is always the delete button.

And thanks to talented developers, there are numerous apps to replace them with to cultivate depth. Here are some I use:

  • Skillshare – to learn anything
  • Lockcard – to build vocabulary with learning reinforcement through notifications
  • Reader (By Readwise) – to read anything and curate your content library
  • Readwise – to review highlighted passages from the reading

A Cargo Ship vs. Dingy World

The world, by default, makes you into a dingy that stays on the surface. You lack depth on topics when you consume surface-level content. When a wave comes, you drown.

As a dingy takes a couple of minutes to inflate, a cargo ship takes time to build. In return, you get a ship anchored to the depths of life’s ocean. You’re also ready to make the trip from China to North America with the latest iPhone.

You gain depth by trading in your time to truly know a topic. And depth isn’t found on the surface as a passive consumer. It’s found underneath all the crap that’s cheap and easy.

Be a cargo ship in a world full of dingy’s.


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