Information Epidemic, Protecting Your Attention in the Attention Economy, Digital Mindfulness
Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Gmail, Amazon, Apple, Discord, WhatsApp, Telegram, Medium, Spotfiy. Everyone wants our attention today on every platform possible.
The Internet is the largest social engineering experiment in the history of mankind and we are reaching peak saturation of digital media and social engineering as everyone is forced to compete for everyone’s attention. How do we win a war in which the supply of our attention is linear but the demand of our attention is exponential?
It is increasingly important especially in the 21st century where many people are becoming highly polarized and where loneliness and disconnection is becoming a major problem whether in the workplace or in life. We have never been as connected as we are now through technology, but at the same time we have never been so divided and polarized from each other because of our increased screentime.
Simon Sinek talks about how social media is ripping apart and destroying empathy by making us more atomized and isolated because of its addictive properties. So its important to have people knowing when to use their head vs when to use their heart. Empathetic leadership where leaders and teams are tapped into a common group flow is increasingly important to sustain great culture. And balancing technology with our humanity will become increasingly important as the world becomes increasingly digitalized.
Om Malik, a Technology Blogger and VC talks about the escalating filter bubbles and attention wars various social media platforms are creating - “Our eagerness to enter into these bubbles explains the rapidly escalating tribalism in our societies. The social networks have created schisms between us that make it more difficult for us to recognize each other as fellow humans — which, indeed, many “users” on our platforms are not.”
The supply of our attention is very limited but the demand of our attention is only growing as the internet becomes more and more chaotic and more and more saturated with companies, entrepreneurs and media sources competing for our attention throughout different platforms, devices and social mediums. We are in a self-reinforcing ad-tech driven attention economy that is becoming unsustainable and questionable, however more and more invasive as digital transformation continues its ruthless march at an accelerated pace.
I started thinking about this very carefully a few years ago and have only grown more and more careful, vigilant and to be quite honest a bit paranoid about what I see taking place. We are all forced to partake in the digital or internet economy in which we are all buying, selling and consuming digital or internet-based goods and services.
Every decision we make is critical in terms of where we choose to focus our attention on, especially today. The volume of noise on the internet is only getting more and more intense and the increasing demand for our diminishing attention is driving us quite literally insane. Take a look at these metrics for our collective usage of different remote-working, video, text, chat, e-commerce, streaming, social media, music, fintech, e-learning platforms. We are now doing literally everything online and conducting all affairs online and each in a collective battle to produce greater goods and services in a more efficient, agile and automated manner.
Unfortunately, for most of us it’s impossible to completely eliminate or escape using the internet and these platforms. I am skeptical of where I see some of this heading because of the addictive nature of some of these platforms and the increasing fragmentation of the internet as well as the increasing demands of our attention and mindshare.
Technology Companies such as Social Media Giants in particular are making billions of dollars trying to get to the bottom of our brain stems and distract us constantly with features like “Infinite Scroll” and these positive dopamine feedback loops on all these platforms like FB, Instagram, Twitter and now LinkedIn as well with both infinite scroll and Stories where the user design is engineered to be as addictive and time consuming as possible in the tech companies’ race to the bottom of our brain stems. The average smartphone user taps, touches or swipes their smartphone over 2000 times per day.
Chamath Palihapitiya, an early senior executive at Facebook and current Venture Capitalist of Social Capital has talked at length about the problems of capitalism at large, the technology and venture capital industry. He has said that Facebook and other social media platforms are largely having a negative impact on the social fabric of how society functions and has said that capitalism is having many negative externalities and market failures which are unsustainable.
Andy Frisella talks about auditing your inputs including consuming information and content and making sure that what you put in your brain serves you. We all have a limited amount of mental energy, and most of social media today is negative and impairs our mental energy and drains us. So having the discipline and mindfulness to pay attention to the right things and consume the right content is extremely important especially in today’s hyperconnected age where most social media and news is negative. Having the right information diet is extremely important to staying mentally sane, healthy, well, motivated and productive.
Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist and star of the 2020 Sundance Festival Film — The Social Dilemma has talked at length about the problems with modern technology companies and social media products as well as the negative externalities Algorithms, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Technology are having on modern society by creating an attention economy and creating a Digital Frankenstein we no longer comprehend because technology companies have created fragmented digital realities for humanity.
Mark Manson talks about practical steps to going through a digital detox in our noisy and busy age, with overwhelming apps, news, and social media that is destroying our ability to think critically, stay sane, make good decisions and process information correctly. We have to limit the amount of apps we use on our smartphones, unfollow a bunch of people who don’t add us value, disable our notifications, and use website blockers to prevent us from going down rabbit holes such as the infinite scroll or doom scrolling.
Sam Harris, Neuroscientist, Philosopher and Host of the Making Sense with Sam Harris Podcast talks about the negative implications digital technologies are having on our lives and how they undermine our collective mental health, wellbeing and democracy, especially amid the covid19 pandemic. He talks about our devolving information ecosystem, and attention/distraction crisis.
However, for these very reasons, as consumers, producers and users of the internet and internet-based platforms its becoming more and more important for us as humans to become very very selective of our attention because everyone is out to get it today. And because of the convenience as well as the accelerating pace of digital transformation certainly aided by the pandemic and lockdowns as well, which is completely resizing and reshaping the future of work as many variables from when the pandemic will end to the coming of GenZ in the workplace and to the increasing adoption of digital platforms, digital and agile lifestyles and distributed/remote work adoption we need to all get used to these new dynamics because many of them are permanent for a larger share of us as entrepreneurs, employees or freelancers.
Some of the techniques I use to protect my attention include,
Daily Meditation and Mindfulness Practice
Attention Diet and Limiting the Intake of News. Following Fewer People, Brands, and News Outlets and using minimal social media accounts. Am very careful to follow those that give me the most relevant value and “bang for my buck” in terms of time well spent. Incorporating minimalism into my digital life vastly ameliorates my mental wellbeing.
Using Fewer Websites, Platforms, Applications and Digital Tools to the highest extent possible if it doesn’t solve my own problems or add value to my life. Using the websites and following the people or brands that truly give me value and solve my own problems, make me knowledgeable in niche topics or keep me informed in the industries or areas I am fascinated in, working in or trying to establish myself in.
Reading Physical Hardcover Books and other activities which don’t require a screen. Let’s be honest, we are hooked to looking at screens and our next hits of digital dopamine. The more time we spend away from screens the better.
Turning of Notifications on my phones or social media
Actively Consuming and Producing Digital content and media vs Passively. Incorporating mindfulness into my day and into my digital practices as well allow me to become an active participant rather than some passive “user” statistic to some tech company. Being very intentional about my consumption and my production habits is critical. I believe it’s important for all of us to definitely be active consumers and if we can also be active producers, we have a more balanced equation.