Much like most of the people in the western world, I’ve had my attention span stolen and decimated by an abundance of distractions, including social media. Being addicted to the dopamine-induced thrill of relevance is counterproductive, stressful, and depressing.
For that reason, I’m excited about Johann Hari’s new book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–And How to Think Deeply Again. An excerpt was published in the guardian the other day, and it immediately struck a cord.
I messaged Johann yesterday to ask (ahead of the book) whether he had any ideas for ways to improve messaging/social media programs to be more attention-respecting; and it turns out there is a chapter in the book about this, although he admits it isn’t super deep. There’s work to be done there, and I really want to see it happen.
Anyway, I do wonder what I should do to take back my own attention span. I will say, I’ve been worried about this for years, and have done various things to reduce the abuse – but it’s still largely split. Between maintaining a large pile of books that I’m reading at any given time, having four different computers that serve different roles, having a bit of an excessive YouTube habit, and splitting my attention span further over a large number of Signal and Discord groups as well as Twitter and e-mail, I can’t help but think I’m a bit of a lost cause.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to finally catapult Facebook out of my consciousness and Instagram is less relevant to me each day. I’m also increasingly hostile to people wanting to have ad-hoc phone calls or unscheduled meetings. My phone has been on silent since sometime around 2011, and it will remain on silent forever – it does not get to control my time.
It would be good for me on a number of levels to maintain a geometrical distinction between where things happen. For instance, in my office area, there should not be any non-work distractions, and even work-type distractions should be limited in when they are allowed to occur. Similarly, the “no screens in the bedroom” rule is a good one – phone will be charged in the living room from now on, methinks.
Three steps I think I should take:
- Stop pinning “interactive” tabs in my browser, such as Twitter, e-mail and such. Calendar and Notion get to stay there for now.
- Close tabs that aren’t being used actively; replace it with a bookmarking service (suggestions welcome!)
- Get rid of all but one laptop, and use it as a surrogate for the office desktop.
I’ll see how I go with this. Clarity is hard to come by, but I’d love to have some of it back. Ideally, I’d like to obtain this clarity without it being a huge cost to my social life, but perhaps something has got to give.
(As a final note: as I’m listening to music as I write this, I do wonder how much it is eating into my ability to focus…)