How I Got My Attention Back

Excerpt from this article:

There are a thousand beautiful ways to start the day that don’t begin with looking at your phone. And yet so few of us choose to do so.

Was I being too hard on technology? Were we all? Technology is such an easy scapegoat. But it feels so right to point our fingers — It must have been the fake news. It must have been Facebook. It must have been Twitter. It must have been Reddit forums.

It was none of these things. It was all of these things. Whatever it was, it robbed us of our attention and, with that, our compassion. But the network never meant to harm us. Hell, it was made by a gaggle of geeks in rooms without windows in the suburbs of Geneva. That’s either the most endearing image, or the most creepy.

Regardless, down in Virginia, on a repurposed plantation: I want my attention back. The thought wouldn’t let go.

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Twitter’s Great Depression

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I left Twitter on January 1st.

Yet, I am jonesing.

I’ve been on Twitter for over 10 years. I’ve met a ton of great people on there. And up until recently it’s been fun! (I wrote about my whole history with Twitter a while back.) It was often the first thing I checked in the morning and the last thing I checked at night. It was like air. And then it wasn’t fun anymore. (Some would argue that for them, it was never fun. And that distinction was/is often based along gender and racial lines.) And now it’s gone from not being fun to being toxic.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve sent a tweet. The app’s still on my phone. (They say the best way to quit is with a pack still in your pocket.) The account’s still up for practical reasons. First off, I use it to log in to several things. Yeah, I can change that, but it’s a pain in the ass. More importantly, people still DM me once in a while, and some of those are business leads, which I don’t want to lose. Plus, I’ve got embedded tweets all over the place, and other folks have embedded my tweets in their own articles. So if I actually shut down the account things break. I don’t want things to break any more than they already have.

Teens ‘rebelling against social media’, say headteachers

Girls give up their phones at Beneden for three days

Excerpt from this article:

Almost two-thirds of schoolchildren would not mind if social media had never been invented, research suggests.

A survey of almost 5,000 students, mainly aged between 14 and 16, found a growing backlash against social media – with even more pupils (71%) admitting to taking digital detoxes to escape it.

Benenden, an independent girls boarding school in Kent, told BBC News that its pupils set up a three-day “phone-fast”.

Some girls found fears of being offline were replaced by feelings of relief.

The Useless Agony of Going Offline

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In his book, Levy, who also teaches tech and mindfulness courses at the University of Washington’s Information School, writes that most people who attempt this sort of experiment successfully complete it, and that they often “feel good about it.” He offers examples of individuals who noted that a day unplugged represented “one of the best days I had had in a long time,” and who “welcomed the silence and the relief of pressure.”

…Good on those folks, sincerely. But I hated spending three days without computers. And I feel no deep shame about this. I don’t think my disdain for the logged-off existence was due primarily to the fact that I’m addicted to social media, or cannot live without my phone, or have morphed into the prototypical “Distracted Man.”

Levy writes that when we choose to cast aside “the devices and apps we use regularly, it should hardly be surprising if we miss them, even long for them at times.” But what I felt was more general. I didn’t miss my smartphone, or the goofy watch I own that vibrates when I receive an e-mail and lets me send text messages by speaking into it. I didn’t miss Twitter’s little heart-shaped icons. I missed learning about new things.

During the world’s longest weekend, it became clear to me that, when I’m using my phone or surfing the Internet, I am almost always learning something. I’m using Google to find out what types of plastic bottles are the worst for human health, or determining the home town of a certain actor, or looking up some N.B.A. player’s college stats. I’m trying to find out how many people work at Tesla, or getting the address for that brunch place, or checking out how in the world Sacramento came to be the capital of California.

What I’m learning may not always be of great social value, but I’m at least gaining some new knowledge—by using devices in ways that, sure, also distract me from maintaining a singular focus on any one thing.

Before the Internet

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Before the Internet, you would just sit in an armchair with a book open on your lap, staring into space or staring at a decorative broom on the wall—kind of shifting back and forth between those two modes of being.

Before the Internet, you might take it upon yourself to do a drawing. You’d quietly start sketching something in a notebook, not sure what it was, but you’d let inspiration guide you and then—woop!—turns out you’d drawn a squiggly alligator with a cockeyed approach.

Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.

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…In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.

…A common response to my social media skepticism is the idea that using these services “can’t hurt.” In addition to honing skills and producing things that are valuable, my critics note, why not also expose yourself to the opportunities and connections that social media can generate? I have two objections to this line of thinking.

First, interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. I currently have filters on my website aimed at reducing, not increasing, the number of offers and introductions I receive.

…My second objection concerns the idea that social media is harmless. Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Should You Quit Social Media?

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“I am thinking of getting rid of my cell phone, signing off of all social media and moving to a log cabin out in the woods. Is there any reason you can think of that I should reconsider?” — Log Cabin Larry

I understand the impulse to try to escape from everything. And I am truly an enthusiastic advocate of running away from one’s problems. New Jersey is a particularly good place to run away from one’s problems to. No one will chase you. Your problems will be like, “I grew up in New Jersey, no way I’m going back there.” And you’ll be free from those problems for a while and will accumulate new problems and then they will all eventually, slowly chase you down like zombies on “The Walking Dead.” But buying time is really all we can do for ourselves in this life. And we have considerably less time than we might suspect.

Also it’s nice to have something to blame for the things that go wrong in your life. “If only I didn’t spend so much time on Twitter I could have painted a masterpiece by now.” If you sign off of Twitter you will somehow use time more wisely than you ever have before, you think to yourself.