“The peak of peak attention can be assigned an exact date: Sunday, September 9, 1956, when Elvis Presley made his first appearance on television, on CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show. Its 82.6 percent share of viewers has never been equaled or bettered.”
The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”
We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.
After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.
Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:
I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.
The internet complicates what it means to be productive. We trap ourselves in email and unlimited social media browsing. We eat lunch at our desks to justify your busyness when “we should go for a walk, to the coffee shop, just to get away. Even Victorian factories had some kind of rest breaks,” says workplace psychologist Michael Guttridge.
Studies repeatedly show the dangers of multitasking and continuous partial attention. By doing more, we’re immersing ourselves less. More than five minutes of Twitter a day won’t make you any better of a Tweeter, observes Seth Godin. Fast-forwarding through movies, podcasts, and books won’t allow you to go deeper into the experience. More information just makes your brain fatter.
In a world of limited attention, it pays to be bored. The brain needs time to switch off, wander, and disconnect from the 24/7 neuron-inducing chemical factory. If everything is meaningful, nothing is worth doing.
Attention is a gift that the social networks want to steal from you. Here’s a simple trick to ward off their magnetism and catch yourself: put the social apps on the fourth home screen.
That’s right: make it harder to access Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest with just a couple taps. The design hurdle allows the mind to pause before engaging into a sinkhole of distraction and emotional envy.
Take back control of your time and don’t let social media use you. Direct its intention by redirecting your attention. Let the story be about your presence.
Issac Asimov used to spend four hours a day writing. He wrote nearly five hundred books in his lifetime. Warren Buffet says he spends hours a day reading in his office.
What does this say?
There’s a time for consuming and a time for producing.
Those that will thrive in the 21st century are those who can toggle between the rapid digital pace yet still create little pockets of attention for themselves to write a blog post or read a book. Single-tasking intends to go deeper.
Attention is scarce. But the abundance of information is also helpful. It feeds you with ideas and makes you realize there’s so much to learn and so much more to do. But without moments, even half-hour, of single-tasking it’s almost impossible to obtain the deep insight you’re looking for. For that, you need to chew on something for a while.
The ability to weave in and out of pockets of concentration, to get some stimulation and then come back to your work is the key, per say.
Clickbait is the result of a 24/7 news cycle. Media companies create stories of unimportance so that they can get another click to drive up revenues. The entire operation intends to suck your attention and waste your time, along with depleting your brain cells.
In short, the news makes your brain fat. That’s why you have to step away from Twitter and reset your RSS feeds every six months. Delete the newsletters that contain links to useless articles. Or just read books. Consuming all the headlines makes none of them significant, leaving little room in your head for remembering what is actually important. Shane Parrish of the educational Farnam Street blog recently dissected the abundance of media in an article entitled ‘The Pot-Belly of Ignorance‘:
“Clickbait media is not a nutritious diet. Most people brush this off and say that it doesn’t matter … that it’s just harmless entertainment.
But it’s not harmless at all. Worse, it’s like cocaine. It causes our brains to light up and feel good. The more of it we consume, the more of it we want. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Be careful what you take in as it directly influences what you put back out. Even more, reflect on what you read since that’s where you connect ideas and start to develop your own. Of course, you need to identify the trustworthy sources. Start with the publication and curators you trust and make a list of potential resources based off of their hyperlinks.
Fill your mind with less, not more. And most importantly, work it off, trying to make sense of what you absorbed in the attempt to craft an original thought.
We’re restless doing nothing. The thought of boredom leaves us scrolling through email and refreshing Facebook to the same updates. We crave new information, even if it’s useless, even if makes our brain fat.
Technology hinders daydreams spontaneity. Instead of letting the mind wander in dull moments we fill it with screen time. Life, which was once the only screen our eyes could see has been replaced by the mobile device. Google’s Cardboard plans to relegate reality even further, allowing our eyes to venture into 3D experiences. Some people won’t want to come back.
Technology trivializes experience. We live through images. We dive into our screens. Nothing is new, nothing is visceral. Memory drains with a click of the button.
Adam Gazzaley, a superstar neurologist on why we need focus:
“It allows us to interact with the world through our goals and not be led by or be a slave to our environment. It has allowed us to do every remarkable achievement — creation of society, culture, language. They are all dependent on being able to focus on our goals.”
Social media is fast food for consuming words, images, and videos. Online users just want to like, share, comment on the post and move on to the next discovery. With such high-speed interactions, no piece of content has true value.
Few people read beyond what’s scannable and never go on to the next page. As a result, the likes of sites like Buzzfeed are dropping link bait in order to rise to the top. Buzzfeed keeps readers coming back through a sticky posting style consisting of quickly digestible lists and images.
Long-form is dying because the publishers are training readers to reconfigure their attention to snackable bytes of information. No proper Millennial turns to the second page anymore.
The explosion of digestible and entertaining content signals the end of traditional journalism for some publishers. For others, it’s an opportunity to raise the level of reporting to make it irresistible to allow any piece to go unfinished.
If free and cheap makes you fat, so too does hoarding countless headlines of insignificant information. Slow media, on the other hand, will keep your brain lean because it requires more focus and deeper thinking.
In conclusion, try to tackle more complex reading and cut back on news snacking. Focus is a bicep curl for the brain.
But a well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention. And attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking. In this age of too much information at a click of a button, the power to attract viewers amid the sea of things to read and watch is power indeed. It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want — hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power. And if you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible.