That One Thing That Keeps You Distracted (attention pollution)

You can find, study, learn anything you want, and you can do it for free. There’s no doubt, all of us can hugely benefit from living in the age of informational and technological advancement. An increasing amount of online educational and entertainment resources only becomes more varied and sophisticated every year. Open-courses from the top tier universities, such as Harvard and Oxford, are accessible to anyone who’s got a wi-fi connection. Public transport and gyms are full of people listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and “How to Get a Bigger Butt” YouTube videos.

In other words, we’re blessed with countless opportunities to learn and advance in all areas of our lives (yes, even our butts). A piece of knowledge that was difficult to acquire or understand ten years ago can can be found in various forms of explanation, with a step-by-step guide on how to implement it into life — all while you’re sat in bed with your device.

Sometimes, I just need to think of a good friend of mine to remind myself that almost anything can be learned; you just need to have the right mindset. This friend used to be a professional cyclist, travelling all around the world, competing in major international tournaments. Several years ago, he moved to the UK. Now, he’s building a successful career as a skilful app developer. He learned how to code on YouTube and open-source platforms, without any previous IT background.

But let’s flip the coin

With all the major benefits of the internet, we’re constantly being offered an opportunity  to sell away our attention at zero cost. And since our attention doesn’t have a tangible price point, it’s just thrown all over the web. Or to be exact, we let it be thrown. The amount of content being released on social media is growing so fast that none of us can possibly keep up.

I like how Mark Manson puts it: “This is life now: one constant, never-ending stream of non sequiturs and self-referential garbage that passes in through our eyes and out of our brains at the speed of a touchscreen.”

I agree with how very quickly and confusing it can all become, unless you find a way to filter out the debris and extract the gold.

The media is already all over your face

We were told to get our butts off the couch and stop watching so much TV when we were kids. Now, we’re sitting, walking, working, and even socialising with our heads bent down and eyes glued to a different type of box. In the Joe Rogan Experience, Elon Musk sort of joked (or not) that we’re making confident steps towards becoming cyborgs as our smartphones have already become an extension of our lives. Sometimes, I wonder if the most comfortable thing is to have my iPhone implanted into my hand so I don’t have to carry it in my pocket.

The social media algorithm is designed to literally f*ck with your attention so you can have multiple, never-ending orgasms, without ever finishing. How does it go along with the overall values of our society? It simply doesn’t. For now, we have to take control of what’s being offered in front of us and learn how to be ultra deliberate with what we want to consume.

Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard suggests we shouldn’t bemoan technology but develop simple strategies of self-control. In my opinion, we also need to avoid the traps which are created in our minds. We’re always one click away from wasting a precious 30 minutes of our time on watching videos which don’t make any difference to our lives, if only, decrease the value of it.

Keep in mind who you’re fighting. It’s not the marketers or the programmers who are constantly scanning your social media behaviour to trick you into buying new products or entice you down a clickbait rabbit hall. But it’s you — the only person responsible for waking up from your own delusion that someone is controlling your attention.

Alright, alright, so how do you get your face off your phone?

“The information we consume matters just as much as the food we put in our body. It affects our thinking, our behaviour, how we understand our place in the world. And how we understand others.” — Evan Williams, Co-Founder of Twitter and Medium

There’s definitely no bullet-proof solution to make it all go away but there’s certainly an approach we can use to change our attitude from a reactive to a proactive one. And if you dig a bit deeper, you may find out about your personal motives for why you allow yourself to keep being distracted. It doesn’t just refer to how much time you spend on the internet; there are already plenty of things which are stealing your time. You should ask bigger questions about how you see your life and what value you’re giving to it.

1. Are you really thankful for the time you have? What if you were hit by a truck tomorrow or discover a life-threatening disease? Would your perception of time change? I know it may be hard to imagine but it could serve you well as a trigger to come up with new ideas about what needs to be changed fundamentally for you to change your behaviour.

2. Also think about how the world stimulates your desires by rewarding you with quick gratification, in the form of likes and comments. As if it’s designed to keep our attention, polluted for as long as possible.

3. One of the most important factors that play a significant role in the speed of human learning is the ability to quickly differentiate important from the unimportant. And as we’ve already discussed, to understand what’s important, you first need to know your primal motives for why you live your life (yes, it’s a loaded one but maybe not for everybody). A question which I started asking myself, in order to understand how to make this differentiation is:

Does this have the potential to fundamentally change my life? If it doesn’t – Does this have the potential to significantly improve my life? If it doesn’t; move on.

Finally, one of the most valuable skills we’ll need is our ability to control our attention. Look around — we already live in the world where our focus is being day-traded for pennies. And if we don’t learn how to manage it, someone else will and it will be at our expense.

For now, let’s see how long can you last until you click on that cat video.

Footnotes:

Mind Over Mass Media, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/opinion/11Pinker.html?_r=0

Some of the ideas were taken from Michael Simmon’s article, which I find highly fascinating: https://medium.com/accelerated-intelligence/while-everyone-is-distracted-by-social-media-successful-people-double-down-on-a-totally-underrated-5a86701e9a27

If you liked this article, then you might enjoy the next one. Just make sure you don’t miss it!

Leave a comment