We’ve all been hijacked.
Almost certainly, you can reflect on your day thus far and see how you succumbed to reacting to the world — likely not even the real world — instead of living on your own terms.
Social media companies round us up, offering faux connection if we participate in their phony advertisement-based business models that are strongest when our attention is stolen which occurs when we aren’t in control.
Facebook’s Whac-A-Mole array of scandals have pushed a select few to close their accounts, but it’s not enough — and it’s not even the right reason to do it, I don’t believe. Along with Facebook, I deleted my Instagram and Snapchat accounts well before the truth started rolling out because I was simply choosing to be human again.
I haven’t missed those accounts for a second since deleting them well over a year ago. Since then, a third-party Twitter app with no ads and a chronological timeline has been the only social media app on my phone.
My recent efforts to reintroduce minimalism and take back my attention included cleaning up my Twitter timeline by erasing the majority of my “following” list. I also made the first page of my iPhone’s home screen totally blank with only Safari, Messages, my task manager and my goal-tracking app in the dock along the bottom. I put a few commonly used apps on the second page and hid everything else in folders on a third page.
But even this wasn’t enough.
Even with Twitter hidden two pages away in one of those folders and even with a calmer timeline, I still checked the app multiple times a day, mostly unconsciously. Even with my RSS feed app on the second page, I still checked it incessantly, pulling the virtual slot machine lever to quickly eliminate boredom.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with checking Twitter or my RSS feeds, but I want to check them on my time. When it is actually how I want to spend some time, I’ll consciously access these things. I’m not allowing myself to fuel procrastination with mindless browsing anymore.
Why It’s Worth It
With pride, I’m an outlier. Good luck getting anyone my age — or… anyone — to delete social media apps from their phone and choose to rebuild their attention spans with activities that actually bring value to their lives.
I can see how it’s a scary idea. Facebook and Instagram are safe. There, you can be a member of the tribe, you can keep up with people and you can have something to turn to when you’re in line, when you need to avoid someone, when you need to appear cool and when you need to be mentally soothed because you can’t stand being bored for even a few seconds.
It’s not worth it. It’s not. Tribes — your friends and family — have thrived without social media longer than they have with it, to say the least. You don’t need to keep up with the Kardashians or every baseball trade rumor. And if you really want to appear cool, keep your phone in your pocket and choose to be present so you can connect with other people who have chosen to be human in a hijacked world.
The feeling of only being connected when you want to be is extraordinary. Beyond a sustained presence in the real world to spark real conversations with real people, it enables something else, the sheer power of which I’m only just realizing.
Stepping back from the noisy world turns you from a consumer into a creator, allowing you to think for yourself and provide fresh value while everyone else finds out what Sally had for lunch today or, at best, imitates but never invents.
Providing Fresh Value
To me, this is the key.
With very, very few exceptions, people my age are college students. Supposedly, they’ve signed up for this to gain skills and accreditation to later provide value to others in exchange for money.
But when they’re not doing schoolwork, they’re handing the reigns of their focus and attention over to Instagram, Snapchat and services like Netflix, which have a related negative effect. This ruins any remaining part of their creation-oriented minds and makes doing an exceptional job on assignments an unthinkable chore. This is already a bold statement, but I’ll take it a step further and posit that this is why expectations at the average university are pathetically low.
Skills and a degree are simply worthless when you can’t think clearly. Why would anyone hire anybody who can’t form, justify and articulate their own thoughts and opinions? Seriously.
I was reading a blog post by someone who blogs every day — a feat only possible when you choose mental clarity over micro-information — that ended with a list of links to things this person had previously written about setting goals, the post’s topic. I realized that if I set off to write a new post about setting goals, I might end up not writing anything new at all.
There would be two routes to choose from:
- Examine things that have already been written about goals, synthesizing the ideas of other people.
- Step back and go inside my own mind to consider my unique thoughts and approaches to goals, providing fresh value that only I can produce.
- Lame shortcut
- Doing real work
If you value seeing Sally’s lunch on Instagram more than you value being a capable person with the ability to focus and create, well, you’ll get what you pay for. Thanks for staying on the sidelines and making the game a lot easier for the rest of us.
This Is Serious
That last paragraph may have felt harsh, but I actually feel that I’m being too soft.
Checking out Sally’s lunch on Instagram — this obviously is an impractical example. What people are doing on social media is so clearly a foolish waste of time that I plain don’t excuse it anymore, especially given the societal effect.
People will always make bad choices, particularly now that so many options for junk food, social media and other bad habits exist and are all so socially accepted.
I don’t think there’s anything surprising here. World-class athletes sometimes shun and speak out against the news media and social media, teaching average people who value social media and other micro-information too highly for their own good that you can’t be world class while entrenching yourself in novel minutia.
Impact on Media
I’m hopeful that there will always be people driven to be world class, just like I hope there will always be publications driven to be world class. But if society is collectively throwing its attention span in the trash, maybe the internet isn’t as great for publishing as it could and should be, huh?
The standard publication thrives on people who can’t resist, who will load page after page and tolerate ad after ad to be tickled with largely useless crap. And since people can’t last two seconds in line without reaching for their phone, why not capitalize on that? Why not write horrendous, sensational headlines to steal attention?
Moreover, why bother making things better by making better things if people won’t put in the effort to consume something superior and recognize its superiority?
I’m sat next to a packed bookshelf while I write this. I’m very strict about what I follow on Twitter — my lone remaining social media account — and what I subscribe to via RSS. I want to consume media that’s high in value and low in uselessness, even if it’s difficult. In fact, especially if it’s difficult; I’ll trade a few-minute YouTube video for a few thousand words any hour of any day.
As long as there are people out there as seemingly crazy as me, virtuous publications and other businesses will succeed, I believe. And it’s not just acceptable to step off the nonstop, one-way train to where attention spans go to die, it’s necessary. Unless you fancy mediocrity.