Social Media Has Fucked Up Our Attention Span.
And how to regain it.
Have you ever clicked on a video and then jumped straight to the comments section, and after several minutes of reading the comments, the video ended and you wondered what was said in the video?
have you ever sat down to work on a project — a story, an essay, or article — but your mind seemed to veer towards other distractions. You suddenly remembered that awesome movie you had forgotten to watch, or you say to yourself:
“Maybe if I watch another video on writing, or self-help; maybe if I read another book, I’ll be better equipped to do my task.”
And you watch videos after videos, or you pick up a book. But you immediately lose interest in it, and open Instagram to see what others are up to; then hours later you realize that you have wasted your time. And that you are now doing something completely different than what you intended to do in the first place.
Why do we do that?
It’s because of social media, and how each platforms have designed it so that we should consume worthless content online, and end up with the attention span of a mosquito.
As a writer who considers himself a former social media addict, I have seen this effect on myself, which inspired me to write on this important topic.
How social medias are made.
Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube aren’t addictive by accident. The people who create these apps dedicate their whole time in making them as dopamine-inducing as possible. Dopamine is a chemical that’s released in our brain when we do something pleasurable; eating, sex, or watching a funny video. Every scroll, every like, comment, or share makes you crave more like a drug addict craves cocaine or heroin.
Let’s take the example of the YouTube comment section. Almost all of the viewers who click on a video tend to read comments while the video is playing in the background. We have messed up our brain so much that we can’t sit through a five minutes video without trying to find a dopamine source. Which we do find in the comments since the comment section is not a place to share our thoughts and feedbacks on the videos anymore, but a place where people show their wit to get likes.
And since companies pay these platforms to advertise on their sites it’s profitable for them to get you addicted. But the irony is that most of the people working on these platforms never use them like we do. Would Mark Zuckerberg use Facebook for even two hours straight? Would big smartphone company’s chief executives let their children bury their noses in the tablets and iPads all day long?
I think not. Because they know these technologies have adverse effects on our behaviors. I’ll be talking about one of the effects.
Every important task requires our focus and attention be to done efficiently. Attention which is scattered can only bring scanty results. Whether you’re an artist trying learn a craft, or trying to learn a new language; without sitting down and actually going through the drudgeries that these tasks come with, you have no hope to learn anything significant.
“Activities on social media apps are like these little chunks of chocolate that lead you towards the edge of a cliff where you will slip and fall to your death.”
It’s made for instant gratification — and if you give in to it — it will program your brain to ignore whatever doesn’t bring short-term pleasure.
And we know how hard it is to accomplish anything worthwhile; it takes years of work and patience. How can we hope to achieve success if we lose focus whenever we don’t get pleasure?
I am amazed when I hear stories of writers who can churn out a 300 hundred page novel in a few months, while I barely write a few hundred words a day — and that too — with difficulty. And I think, if you analyzed your own behavior, you could find the effects of it too.
When was the last time you finished watching a full ten minutes video? Or read a book for thirty minutes without checking your phone? I have been tempted several times to click off Medium and open YouTube while writing this article. Even though my attention span has been ruined, I thank God I haven’t used some of the other apps that completely demolishes ones attention. Of course I’m talking about Tik-Tok.
It’s designed to give instant gratification. The videos are short, consumable, and sometimes even funny according to some people. (It’s not — Tik-Tok sucks!)
Without a great attention span, your ambitions, creativity, and overall faculty to approach life with a strong will, will be diminished.
“What can we do to recover our attention spans?”
Here are some simple things that you can do:
Don’t scroll down.
Whenever you open Instagram to check your messages, just do that and sign out. You might want to scroll down because you think you’ll miss out on what other people are doing, but you’ll put yourself forward for Instagram to put a noose around your neck.
The scrolling features are another method to keep you on the site. That’s why no matter how much you scroll down, you’ll still see photos and videos; tools to keep you hooked. Another useful method is to delete Instagram, twitter, and Facebook from your phone. And if you want to use them, open them in your browser. The shitty interface and lag will deter you from using it and you’ll sign out.
Treat it like a treat.
What do I mean by that? Don’t open the social media apps just to pass the time. Use it to give your mind a break from work. If you were told to pick a snack during work, would you choose a lot of low quality snacks to fill your belly — or something tasty and savory that you will finish and lick your finger in the end?
Treat social media just like food. You can have plenty of rubbish — whatever is thrown at you — or you can pick a premium quality content that will leave you satisfied in the end. Instead of watching twenty seconds meme videos, why not watch a documentary about the royal incest of the European monarchies? That shit is interesting and educational.
Go through laboring, yet long-term rewarding activities.
By doing things that are hard and requires a lot of focus, you’ll rewire your brain to ignore instant-gratification, and acquire the habit to sit through hard tasks for longer. It could mean writing when you don’t feel like it, or learning to edit videos without shifting to binge-watching YouTube videos. But keep in mind to avoid distractions; turn your phone off, or unplug the internet router.
You should do the opposite of what these social media apps are doing. Do hard things — which require much focus — and do it for long. It’s sounds simple, but taking action is a different thing.
And remember, when you’re trying to ignore the hubbub of trends, apps, and memes, you’re basically fighting against a whole company; full of employees trying to bring your attention span down, so the battle — of course — will be hard, yet rewarding.