“We’re battling a socially acceptable form of addiction, and we’re taking the crack pipe to bed with us.”
Attention is precious. There’s a reason why big tech companies are hiring some of the smartest people in the world to try and get you to use their products for just a little bit longer. Your attention means money.
Tristan Harris, ex Design Ethicist (right?!) at Google and founder of ‘Time Well Spent’, has proposed a ‘hippocratic oath’ of sorts for programmers, because they dictate how we navigate the digital realm. As the saying goes, ‘what we design, designs us back’, and these men and women are designing products that affect how billions of people are not only spending their time, but interacting with each other. Unfortunately, we don’t have too much control over how these companies design their products, but we do have control over how we interact with them.
A few years ago, I thought I had ADHD. I was unable to focus my attention on anything for more than a few minutes, and it was affecting my ability to work and study. I decided to visit a psychiatrist for evaluation, but he told me to completely stop smoking cannabis and come back in a few months.
After some herbal-induced introspection, I realised that I had partially inflicted this upon myself. Constantly being connected to the internet and being a reflexive control + t from any destination in cyberspace to get my digitally-delivered hit of dopamine was ruining my ability to focus on anything.
Cal Newport, professor, productivity specialist and author, explains the importance of the ability to focus in his book ‘Deep Work’. For those whose contributions to society come from time spent doing focused work (you probably fall into this category), the ability to concentrate for long periods of time is paramount to success. Fractured attention is an existential threat.
This becomes more worrying when we consider that social media platforms affect the brain like drugs and gambling. And that, once distracted, it takes on average, 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task following a distraction. Considering the number of notifications we can receive throughout the day, the odds are stacked against us when it comes to guarding our attention.
This societal problem is worrying. Some of us would rather suffer from electric shocks than sit alone with our thoughts. Take a minute and ponder that, if you actually can.
So what can we do?
Wrestle control of your attention and take control of your life.
- Begin meditating (It’s literally an attention cultivating exercise)
- Treat social media like email. Set aside time to check each day, and leave it at that. If people really need to contact you, they will find a way.
- Turn off all but the ‘necessary’ notifications. (Chances are the world won’t end, and if it does, it’s probably best to not know about it).
- Set aside time for ‘Deep Work’.
We’re battling a socially acceptable form of addiction, and we’re taking the crack pipe to bed with us.
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