Social Media: Could It Actually Hurt Your Career?

Could the time you devote to social media prove detrimental to your career?

That’s the conclusion that Georgetown University computer science professor Cal Newton arrives at in his eye-opening book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

Newton admits upfront that, unlike his fellow millennials, he has never opened a social media account. While that may make him an outlier today, he predicts more will follow him offline when they fully appreciate the threat that social media poses to their professional lives.

“There are many issues with social media, from the 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,” he writes in a New York Times op-ed.

Newton says younger workers get lured into social media under the false assumption that without self-branding and constantly updating via their Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, their prospects for career advancement are dim. He points out that, in a capitalist economy, it’s those who create something rare and valuable who ascend, and social media is decidedly neither.

“This is a philosophy best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following,” he writes.

Another common misconception among young professionals is that participation in social media can’t hurt. Why not be a part of the trend, right?

Newton offers two reasons. One, if you’re doing quality work, it will get noticed without social media. Two, social media is far from harmless. He insists social media weakens our ability to concentrate on difficult tasks without distraction because it is “engineered to be addictive.”

“The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used – persistently throughout your waking hours – the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom,” he writes. “Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won’t tolerate such a long period without a fix.”

Why invite even more distractions and noise into your already-hectic professional life?

Finally, Newton warns that social media easily seduces us into thinking that the time we spend preening our online portfolio is time well spent.

“A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter,” he writes. “If you’re serious about making an impact on the world, power down your smartphone, close your browser tabs, roll up your sleeves and get to work.”

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Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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