Down the Rabbit Hole of Social Media

I have been
noticing this last year that my attention span - never my strong point - has seem to grown shorter.  Focus has become more and more of a problem.  When I was writing my first book and hit a mental block, I would jump on my bicycle and ride hard for an hour. The first 10-15 minutes my thoughts would be chaotic. Then over the next 45 - 50 minutes it would slowly calm and wander. Ideas would begin to bubble up. I would return home ready to get back to writing. 

A month ago I tried this again to see if I could find that calm mind again. The answer? It never came. I was appalled. Since then I have been trying to figure out how to get back to that free flowing state without much success. Then I started reading Stolen Focus by Johann Hart. Holy cow! Frightening at times, but a few of the ideas make so much sense. In my mind this is a must read for everyone!

While I will be writing a book review, I was so overcome, I needed to share more here. I have marked page after page to go back and review and I'm only half way through, so what I am sharing here is just a tiny bit of what is covered. 

One is about the two kinds of focus he covers. The first is best represented by a spotlight. It's the ability to dive into one subject without interruption, to really focus on it. A book, a full length documentary, a longer presentation on stage - all these are good examples. Instead we see people trying to absorb everything in sound bites - the shorter the better. Think Reddit and texts. In sound bites, you only skim the surface and it's impossible to get the bigger picture. 

The second focus was the wandering mind, like what I used when I bicycled. It's a letting go of focus and allowing the mind to piece together ideas from different sources. Creativity comes alive in this space. It's where imagination resides. New directions are discovered.  Different ways of looking at a problem can be revealed. This is where we find the AHA moments. The siren call of distractions at our finger tips, the ready access to texts, internet and social media through our cell phone, have led us away from those quiet moments and even helped us become intolerant of them.

It's also important to
know how success is defined for social media companies and web search engines. Their goal is to keep you engaged. The more you are engaged, the more money they make on ads. That's it. There aren't evil intentions, it's just the way they make more money.  Scrolling pages, likes, comments, followers, and suggestions on what to view next are the way they keep us going down the rabbit hole. The more hours we are engaged, the more money they make. And that takes away from pursuits that would boost our critical thinking. 

Last is the scary one. As the goal is to keep you engaged, the algorithms they use suggest and show you what they think will keep you there. What they found was anything negative would keep you there longer. Key words that refer to the negative - war, murder, death, destroy - bring more hits and re-shares, so you are slowly guided to the negative no matter what your leanings. This is truly a subtle and destructive thing. 

I love my social media connections and let's face it, social media is not going away. I have been very vigilant over the last year, but realize I have more to do.  For two hours in the middle of every day I put my phone where I won't hear it and walk away from the computer. I might read, watch a documentary, rest, walk - but I let go of all engagement. 

I changed my settings
to friends only on my Facebook personal page and am very protective of it.  If things appear on my feed I find offensive or unwelcome, I mark it as such in the drop down menu. If people make offensive posts, I remove them. I had started to listen to audio books or podcasts when I walked to keep me distracted. No longer. Walks alone will be time for my mind to rest and reflect - time for a wandering focus  When having lunch or coffee, I try to turn my phone off or mute it.  I try to be 100% present. I used to do this all the time, but noticed I am slipping lately. Time to re-embrace that practice.

Where I still need to work is games on my iPad.  It's so easy to sit down and play a few instead of having some quiet time for my mind to wander.  Kudos to one of my business connections who set a limited time in her schedule for emails and only checked them during that time. I get it now and may add that to my tool kit.  You are way way ahead of me. And know - you do not have to answer every text and email immediately. Very few are an emergency.  Set times to reply to them in bulk instead of one at a time. You also do NOT have to be on every single app. Carefully look at which serve you best and use them. Let the others go. The more you juggle the better is not a great goal. Make space for unengaged time.  

So the rabbit hole is there and it's a tough one. It's subtle and scary how we are all being drawn in, but we do have a choice to not go down it.  Social media and the internet can be a positive force and a great tool for connection, we just have to be diligent and make hard choices.  Let go of the need for likes and followers. Make posts that reflect your values and support posts by others that do the same. If something you do NOT want to see goes down your page, there is a report post in the drop down menu. Use it. 

And I highly suggest you take time to read the Stolen Focus. It is full of research and even opposing views (a chapter I haven't reached yet). And you will begin to understand the arsenal of tools the developers are using to keep you engaged.  Read it carefully and I would suggest in smaller sections. Then pause to let the ideas roll around in your mind. I don't agree with all he says, but it really has made me step back and think. 

It's time for more critical thinking and that means pondering and connecting the dots.