Cal Newport: ''No one should have a cell phone until they're 16, or even 18''

The writer and associate professor of computational science at Georgetown University (Washington) Cal Newport. Penny Gray tells Cal Newport (Houston, 39 years old) that, until not long ago, he was seen as an eccentric and somewhat aggressive being for not having networks social. He feels that time has proved him right, especially since Donald Trump arrived at the White House and more and more people began to distrust the platforms. He regrets that most people haven't taken the step of deleting their profiles, but at least they no longer harass him for not being part of that world. The same year that Trump was elected president, this American published Deep work ("work in depth" in Spanish), a book that has just been translated into our language with the title Céntrate (Peninsula). In it, in addition to analyzing why it is necessary to work in depth and with the greatest possible concentration, he provides a series of tips to achieve it. And yes, one of his recommendations is to leave social networks. But in this ode to productivity, he also explains why you should avoid checking email every few minutes, surfing the web in moments of distraction, and the need to create a work system for daily tasks.
Ask. He published Céntrate (Deep work) six years ago. What would you write today?
Answer. To write a kind of continuation of that book, such as A world without email ("a world without email", not yet translated into Spanish), I kept asking myself why we work in this way that distracts us so much, and I reviewed the history of the email. The conclusion I came to is that it was an accident: email came to the offices to replace fax, but once we had it there, its mere presence changed the way we work and opened the door to departures. and comings of conversations and messages from one side to another without ceasing. That spiral spiraled out of control and created this world of distractions where it's so hard to get things done.
Q. The covid-19 pandemic has had us in front of screens longer than ever. How do you think it has affected work?
R. When the pandemic started I thought that the change to teleworking was going to make many things worse. I think it was a real problem because even though the workers didn't have to relocate, they put in more hours than ever. Of course, I also believed that companies were going to have to rethink how they work, but, although the pandemic made work painful, it also brought a lot of pain in other ways, so people were already desensitized to it, so there was no changes in the way we organize ourselves.
P. How are your habits regarding the use of the mobile and the computer?
A. I view care as an athlete would view their health and fitness. I live by reflecting and expressing my thoughts in books and articles, so I don't have social networks, which would be very counterproductive for my work. It would be like an athlete smoking. Since I live by reflecting all day, I don't want to expose myself to something that is designed so that I press a series of buttons that, for example, will make me depressed. I set rules so I don't have to constantly check email. For example, I have a shared document with my publicist where we review ideas only once a day.

Q. And how do you manage the use of devices with your children?

Q. When do you plan for them to have their own cell phone?

P. Have they tried to convince you to open accounts on social networks? Your publishers, for example.
R. They used to try, but they have given up (laughs). The funny thing is, for a long time, I was considered weird. Some people interpreted it as an aggressive rejection of modernity. For example, in 2016 I wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in which I defended that young people gave too much importance to social networks when thinking about their future work and did not believe that it was as relevant as developing skills. The newspaper commissioned a response article to repudiate what I said, because of all the fuss that arose. He seemed to have said that democracy was overrated and we should bring back a king. When I gave a TED talk about it, the organizers were concerned, they changed the title, and I had to ask them to put it back: "Get Off Social Media." All of that has changed since Trump was elected president; people became more wary of networks. The culture changes very quickly in the United States Now people say, "Good for you."
Q. Some consider that social networks are an extension of society, since real life debates are transferred to them. Would you say that this is true or that, deep down, they are irrelevant?
A. Neither of them. I think that the conversations on the networks do not offer a representative sample of how society feels. What we have are extreme, tribal, and bizarre positions coming down hard, and angry communities fighting back with incredible vehemence. They do not represent how ordinary people feel, although they wield enormous influence in politics and the media. It is like a distorted mirror: the world that is reflected in the networks is not an accurate representation of the real world, but the people in power pretend that it is.
“The world that is reflected in the networks is not an accurate representation of the real world, but the people in power pretend that it is”
Q. It seems that during the last few years we have been spending less time on some platforms, as if we had grown tired. How do you think the use of the networks we use now will evolve?
A. My prediction is that there will be an end to the fact that there are few, but huge platforms that everyone uses. I think we are going to have a more fragmented market. Some will prefer one and others will prefer another, but they will not ask you how it is possible that you do not have TikTok, for example. Now there is so much competition that they have no way to maintain that prominent position.
Q. As a computer engineer, how do you feel about the work done in Silicon Valley? Do you ever consider how you could have contributed, at least when it comes to ethics?
R. It would have been interesting if he had worked for one of those companies. In college I had a job offer to go to Microsoft and another to go to MIT (Massachusett Institute of Technology), and I went the academic route, which offered me more flexibility, but not as much money. I wouldn't have been happy with a stressful, email-saturated work life; I would have felt miserable in a way. I am interested to see how Silicon Valley will evolve, although I think it will adapt and do well, just as it is no longer limited to that geographical space, but has expanded and allowed workers to telecommute forever .
P. How do you think the metaverse and virtual reality are going to influence the way of working and the difficulties to do it in depth?
A. The impact of these technologies will be work-neutral. We are going to continue in a world of screens or virtual. What is going to make it easier for us to do in-depth work and concentrate more is going to be something of a philosophical nature, it is not going to be solved by technology. We do not have a technological problem that prevents us from doing the work, but a management problem. We need to rethink how we work. The metaverse and the technological revolution are not going to make the job better or worse. We don't need new tools, we need to reassess the issue.
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