I can’t add much to this title, except that I was thinking about all the mess of social media most of us wade through from time-to-time—or even most of the day, for some—and how to deal with it as it washes over us. Dan Hon laid out some decent philosophical razors in this Medium piece. I like him.
Part of my quest to keep good digital hygiene—which is frequently less than successful—is to continually re-examine my habits and compulsions with my devices and the stuff I use them to do. I finished reading an intense, stirring interview with Jaron Lanier about the state of social media (and the internet in general). That’s not unusual, his interviews are usually dense like that, and have been since the 90s. His forthcoming book will argue for ditching social media accounts entirely.
One other thought-provoking interview I came across was from backtracking through previous episodes of Jocelyn Glei’s podcast Hurry Slowly. In episode 15, Oliver Burkeman talks about the difficulty we have of doing anything for its own sake. Not for a goal, not for a higher purpose, not to make us better and faster at doing other things. It’s extremely hard not to ascribe a benefit to it, but sometimes we should get bored just to experience it.
Boredom is now a scarce commodity—at least for most of the digitally-networked. We have endless distractions available, many for free, so why let an unpleasant state like being bored get any foothold in our day? There are some distinct creative benefits to becoming bored. But, as hard as it is to avoid selling this idea using some, I’m advocating for becoming bored despite those benefits.
It’s good for us as people to do a little nothing every so often. If our predominant state is to be on-the-move, working, being productive, getting distracted, filling idle moments catching up on The Latest—then activity has become a monolith. It’s good to have perspective and also to experience different states of mind and being. It’s like an inverse meditation, putting aside every amusing distraction and indulging in stultification.
I prescribe 20 minutes, at first. Do it today or tonight, see how different it feels to have nothing to do. There’s no restriction on what you think about, but I’m trying to get into the same mindset I had as a kid. Kids are often experts at getting bored. They usually have fewer things they’re supposed to do, fewer responsibilities, fewer pressures churning our minds into a constant fret.
Go. You’re 10 years old. Nothing on TV, no friends available to play, internet a distant dream. Twenty minutes. This feels different. Good.
Speaking of failures, I’m still spending way too much time reading news, political analysis, and random minutiae online, despite a redoubled effort to shift my attention to creating stuff and reading books.
Distraction is easier all the time. Setting out to write this post, I have opened Spotify, messed with battery settings, checked text messages, started to read emails twice and realized what I was doing—it’s really endless.
I’ve learned how to circumvent this monkey mind dopamine loop—MMDL in the literature, I’m pretty sure—pragmatically: make your to-do list he night before, stick to it in Pomodoro segments, start early. It’s still always there, and it’s always a fight. Habits of distraction built up over years, as my social media and information overload have been, are really really hard to break.
I don’t have any real advice, here, maybe just an ongoing reminder that almost nobody knows what they’re doing and is muddling through it all just like you. Unless you’re effective and prolifically productive. In that case, teach me your ways, kind stranger.
The question is yours to answer, we’ll all have a different list, sometimes several things, sometimes one.
But as social feeds get better at gaming your very human instincts and desires, it’s ever more incumbent to decide how much time is too much to spend with them. To that end, writing down the one or three things you view as “important” could be a useful reminder to spend most of your free time on them, and not digital minutiae.
Title: “What’s Important?”
And then use that to focus your attention and daily habit.
Along the digital hygiene self-examination track I’ve roared into headlong, I made my way slowly through Dan Hon’s newsletter (worth subscribing to, if you’re interested in informed ruminations on tech and its intersection with human life) wherein he talks about the difficulty in discerning whether social media corps. are engineering quirks of our brain reward system to get us addicted to the feeds they dangle, or if it’s just a coincidence of their format.
Basically, I wondered, is it just easier to make a decision about what we value? Do we value our time to make things and—even the precious moments we rarely find to just sit and do nothing—more than the endless stream of discrete information that’s overloading us?
Sorry, leading question your honor, withdrawn.
As creators, makers, we probably want our work to be valued. But if we don’t carve out time for it—probably more than we think we need—it doesn’t receive the raw input that imbues much of that potential value. In my opinion.
The Feed takes value from us. It takes it in the form of our time, our focus, and our personal data. We’re attempting to put value back into the world. Perhaps we should consider if we need a lot more of our own raw value to be able to do that.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.