May 03 2017
Happiness/Health & Wellbeing/Sanity

Mind Your Attention, Guard Your Mind

My natural default mental state when I open my eyes in the morning is generally convivial, grateful and optimistic, with a hint of full-blown neurosis lurking in the shade.  This lasts right up until the moment I open the Pandora’s Box that is the internet.  The miraculous internet!  Where you’re always one click away from a mind-numbing smoothie of sensationalism, horror, nonsense and message board culture. And, to be fair, some good recipes.

I fall into this trap daily, just like (almost) everyone.

It’s possible our entire economy – entire civilization! – is based upon the need of various entities to break into our minds and steal every last functioning brain cell.  Untold livelihoods depend on the capture of our attention and the holding of it for as long as possible. Time and attention – our most precious possessions. We freely give them away without judgement to those who profit from them, yet give us precious little of value in return.

But we don’t just give ourselves freely. Sometimes, we are taken.

For example, have you gotten through many of my long-winded treatises?

You probably have not – it’s ok!  Brooklyn Bread is not scientifically designed to hold the attention of as many people as possible for as long as humanly possible, to be addictive, or to entangle the average person inside my “ecosystem.” It is written so that I can work through ideas, and engage others somewhat while I express concepts that seem important in the context of my life.  The only ecosystems I care about have birds in them.

My particular perspective may resonate with someone who is like minded or has similar challenges and finds some sort of connection, validation or helpful insight here.  But it is not going to be relevant to all.  Many visitors will be momentarily interested, then quickly pass through, their brain on the lookout for some new diversion to break up the boredom of the moment.

This experience is vastly different from a meander through, say, Buzzfeed, a destination that is meticulously engineered to tap into that craving for diversion. It captures and retains your attention with a never-ending flow of easily digestible diversions. I ask you, who among us could not, if all the conditions were just so, watch Tasty videos all day long.

Coal companies mine coal. Media and tech companies mine us.

We are no different from any resource that is extracted from the ground or the ocean or the mountains and then sold for profit. The mountain doesn’t get paid for its coal, and you are not going to get paid for your eyeballs. Or your privacy. Though Congress has made sure that someone else will.

Raptitude had a great essay this week, How Billionaires Stole My Mind.  It begins with something I am so guilty of: the awful habit of looking at my phone first thing in the morning.  It starts off innocently enough – I just want to see the temperature. Notifications blaring, I check them without thinking. I end up on Twitter and before I know it, I’m drowning in a sea of angst about nuclear war. This, before brushing my teeth.

Bloody notifications!

The Raptitude piece linked to an equally brilliant essay by Tristan Harris called How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist. If you’ve read this far, both are a must-read. Harris gets into the addiction aspect of it.  He says that the most addictive device ever created wasn’t the smart phone – it was the slot machine.  But clicking on “notifications” gives us the same hit that people get from a slot machine… this possibility that some amazing, incredible reward is waiting for us.

It is not.

This meal that is made of our time and attention – it makes our world go round.

Facebook needs you to like as many things as possible so that it can accurately profile you for perfectly targeted ads. Verizon needs you to binge-watch The Walking Dead so you never dream of canceling cable. Pepsi needs you to be charmed by Kendall Jenner (oops). CNN needs you to find the news equal parts enraging and entertaining. Google needs you to keep searching. Adidas needs you to like its Instagram profile.  YouTubers need you to watch their sponsored posts. “Heeeeeeeyyyyy guys!”  (YouTube needs this as well.) Congress needs you to pay attention to Donald Trump so you don’t notice what’s in their shitty health care plan and vote against them.  Twitter needs you to keep scrolling until forever. So do the firms investing Twitter.  And the insurance companies insuring the companies that invest in Twitter.  And on and on and on.

Everyone wastes time.

It’s human nature and its fine. But wasting time used to mean something different than it does now.  The marketplace has perfected the technology that can exploit this tendency, ensnare us and monetize our attention to an almost unimaginable degree.

It is a frustration for many, even if we don’t think of it in this way.  It is not easy to fight against your own brain.  There’s plenty of advice out there on how to “disconnect.”  Here’s some stuff to do other than reading the internet when you’re bored. And you might consider disabling your notifications. Really, there is no easy solution.

But I think one really important thing is awareness.

Meditations on giving away the one thing you can’t buy back.

Bring awareness to the transaction that is taking place without your explicit consent or notice and the science and that has created the infrastructure behind this addictive symbiosis. Notice the profit machine that influences you ten layers deep, convincing you that you’re making fun or useful choices when you click and click and click. While mindlessly scrolling, ask yourself “what am I looking for, what am I hoping to see?”

Time is our most precious gift. The ultimate non-renewable resource. Think about giving it away, for nothing.

It’s a sobering reflection. My mind went through this train of thought on the way home from work yesterday and I found it disturbed me greatly.  So much so that I stopped reading, plugged in my earbuds, shut my eyes and let Bjork take me the rest of the way home.

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  • Very true. It’s important to stay alert to the amount of time we spend in front of our screens. I’ve found that meditating twice a day has been great for focusing my attention more towards things that matter instead of, say, more cat videos.

    • Melanie – this article was amazing! It so perfectly crystallized this new phenomenon. I read every word, loved it. Cultivating focus is one of my biggest goals. This is why Deep Work is one of my favorite books ever, even though I am not, like, super into my career.

  • I turned off all notifications on my phone (except text) over a year ago. Even with them turned off, I check them too frequently. What I have noticed is that if we are on vacation or out of town for a few days, I check less and less the more days I am away. By the end of our last vacation, I was only checking twice each day. Believe it or not, nothing bad happened when I didn’t check. This is a work in progress for me! Thanks for the reminder, Linda.

    • It definitely serves more of a purpose in those less fulfilling moments – like commuting, or waiting in line, or waiting for someone to meet you. Certainly, for me, when you I am disengaged at work. You can see how when you are on vacation, or absorbed doing something fun with your family, or even just taking a walk in the park how that check your phone itch it has less hold over you. Clearly, the ability to get absorbed in good things is part of the solution. Re-learning how to focus. This is why I love Deep Work so much and need to read it again. Thank you, Amanda…

    • Amanda, I turned most notifications off on my phone. I also keep it on silent now unless I think that I will be needed by my son or husband for a time sensitive thing. This means I check my phone on my time and it doesn’t interrupt my work. I really like the peace that’s brought… However, I definitely still check it way too often. 🙂

  • Great thoughts, Linda. Getting drawn into the endless scrolling, and checking for updates is an endless battle for me. I read the essay’s you linked to, great insights all around. I like how David (Raptitude) states that he will begin to use the internet like we used television in the 80’s.
    On another note, I learned a new word from your post today, it’s not the first
    time…convivial. I had to look it up. : )

    • Melanie linked to a really great article also. We all know this is a problem, but it’s like quitting smoking, you don’t just do it because you want to. You do it because you have to and because you are summoning every ounce of will and determination and learning about every trick in the boo to get your brain to stop doing things that are self-defeating. Thank you for your words, MMM. I hope “convivial” means what I thought it meant – lol!

  • The best thing I do is put my phone on the charger around 6 pm…and leave it alone until about 8 am. I still see some stuff, because I have Facebook and Pinterest (but not Twitter) on my Kindle. But it’s far less than when I let myself be tethered to my phone from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed.

  • This topic is one of the reasons I haven’t gotten too involved on Pinterest. As for FaceBook I only have a personal account which I’m on maybe once a month for 5 minutes. YouTube is another story. I found I’ve become addicted to searching for the ultimate exercise video. I have over 30 saved in a folder. Isn’t that enough? Twitter is very addictive too, especially the stuff that’s trending.

    Just bookmarked the Tristan Harris article for later reading. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Well I just got a kettle ball for my birthday, among other very interesting items, so I may be joining you on YouTube looking for videos! But truly Twitter is the only one I find truly addictive. I finally figured out how to borrow library books on my kindle app, so hopefully this will help. I am finally reading “The Case Against Sugar” and I’m pretty engrossed. That’s a good thing…

  • Recently I’ve been getting rid of some tech gadgets. Sold the TV, iPad, etc. I thought having an iPad would be great for productivity, but I realized it’s actually decreasing my productivity. Too much technology can be a distraction.

  • Thank you for ruining my day, Linda. It’s not fun knowing you have slipped the yoke of one master (cable TV) only to be ensnared by another (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Perhaps it’s time to institute one or two no-screen days per week? Very provocative read, my northern cousin. Cheers.

    • Oh dear, don’t despair! I promise, I have pulled back from the brink thanks to “The Case Against Sugar”! Lol! Though I admit it is injecting a new brand of anxiety into my anxiety menu. 🙂

  • I totally agree. I actually gave up my smartphone and downgraded back to a dumb phone. I’m finding more and more articles about people doing that. I also don’t do social media… at. all. Just blogs and YouTube. I call social media ‘cloud clutter’. I saw a TED talk from Cal Newport, millennial computer science professor and author of Deep Work. He says to quit all social media. I agree. 🙂

    • I do feel like I can’t totally quit social media because that is the main way people discover my blog. But my main problem is Twitter, and truthfully the main problem behind my Twitter problem is Donald Trump. No easy answer for me – I am racked with anxiety and searching for some small bit of good news. I know I won’t find it, but it goes even beyond that addiction to distraction.

  • Deleting my Facebook account back in 2014 was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Then again, now I’m on Twitter…

    I have this compulsion that every time I open a browser I instinctively type the URLs for two of my favorite news sites. As if I need an update on the news every…15…minutes.

    Wishing I could just wave a magic wand and retrain my flawed brain but alas, no such luck.

    1. Chris @ Keep Thrifty 05:55pm 16 May - 2017 - Reply

      Deleting my Facebook account back in 2014 was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Then again, now I’m on Twitter…

      I have this compulsion that every time I open a browser I instinctively type the URLs for two of my favorite news sites. As if I need an update on the news every…15…minutes.

      Wishing I could just wave a magic wand and retrain my flawed brain but alas, no such luck.

      • Brooklyn Bread 04:29pm 17 May - 2017 - Reply

        These extremely heavy news cycles will be the death of us all. It never lets up, wave upon wave upon wave, breaking over our heads. It is exhausting.

    2. Primal Prosperity 11:58am 10 May - 2017 - Reply

      I totally agree. I actually gave up my smartphone and downgraded back to a dumb phone. I’m finding more and more articles about people doing that. I also don’t do social media… at. all. Just blogs and YouTube. I call social media ‘cloud clutter’. I saw a TED talk from Cal Newport, millennial computer science professor and author of Deep Work. He says to quit all social media. I agree. 🙂

      • Brooklyn Bread 03:21pm 10 May - 2017 - Reply

        I do feel like I can’t totally quit social media because that is the main way people discover my blog. But my main problem is Twitter, and truthfully the main problem behind my Twitter problem is Donald Trump. No easy answer for me – I am racked with anxiety and searching for some small bit of good news. I know I won’t find it, but it goes even beyond that addiction to distraction.

    3. Mr. Groovy 08:13am 09 May - 2017 - Reply

      Thank you for ruining my day, Linda. It’s not fun knowing you have slipped the yoke of one master (cable TV) only to be ensnared by another (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Perhaps it’s time to institute one or two no-screen days per week? Very provocative read, my northern cousin. Cheers.

      • Brooklyn Bread 10:47am 09 May - 2017 - Reply

        Oh dear, don’t despair! I promise, I have pulled back from the brink thanks to “The Case Against Sugar”! Lol! Though I admit it is injecting a new brand of anxiety into my anxiety menu. 🙂

    4. Troy @ Market History 05:44pm 06 May - 2017 - Reply

      Recently I’ve been getting rid of some tech gadgets. Sold the TV, iPad, etc. I thought having an iPad would be great for productivity, but I realized it’s actually decreasing my productivity. Too much technology can be a distraction.

      • Brooklyn Bread 11:24am 08 May - 2017 - Reply

        If I couldn’t let my kid play games on my iPad sometimes, I would have ZERO productivity!

    5. Mrs. Groovy 05:10pm 06 May - 2017 - Reply

      This topic is one of the reasons I haven’t gotten too involved on Pinterest. As for FaceBook I only have a personal account which I’m on maybe once a month for 5 minutes. YouTube is another story. I found I’ve become addicted to searching for the ultimate exercise video. I have over 30 saved in a folder. Isn’t that enough? Twitter is very addictive too, especially the stuff that’s trending.

      Just bookmarked the Tristan Harris article for later reading. Thanks for sharing it.

      • Brooklyn Bread 11:23am 08 May - 2017 - Reply

        Well I just got a kettle ball for my birthday, among other very interesting items, so I may be joining you on YouTube looking for videos! But truly Twitter is the only one I find truly addictive. I finally figured out how to borrow library books on my kindle app, so hopefully this will help. I am finally reading “The Case Against Sugar” and I’m pretty engrossed. That’s a good thing…

    6. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe 12:11pm 04 May - 2017 - Reply

      The best thing I do is put my phone on the charger around 6 pm…and leave it alone until about 8 am. I still see some stuff, because I have Facebook and Pinterest (but not Twitter) on my Kindle. But it’s far less than when I let myself be tethered to my phone from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed.

    7. Mystery Money Man 12:30am 04 May - 2017 - Reply

      Great thoughts, Linda. Getting drawn into the endless scrolling, and checking for updates is an endless battle for me. I read the essay’s you linked to, great insights all around. I like how David (Raptitude) states that he will begin to use the internet like we used television in the 80’s.
      On another note, I learned a new word from your post today, it’s not the first
      time…convivial. I had to look it up. : )

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:29am 04 May - 2017 - Reply

        Melanie linked to a really great article also. We all know this is a problem, but it’s like quitting smoking, you don’t just do it because you want to. You do it because you have to and because you are summoning every ounce of will and determination and learning about every trick in the boo to get your brain to stop doing things that are self-defeating. Thank you for your words, MMM. I hope “convivial” means what I thought it meant – lol!

    8. Amanda @ centsiblyrich 10:04pm 03 May - 2017 - Reply

      I turned off all notifications on my phone (except text) over a year ago. Even with them turned off, I check them too frequently. What I have noticed is that if we are on vacation or out of town for a few days, I check less and less the more days I am away. By the end of our last vacation, I was only checking twice each day. Believe it or not, nothing bad happened when I didn’t check. This is a work in progress for me! Thanks for the reminder, Linda.

      • Melanie of Mindfully Spent 12:39pm 10 May - 2017 - Reply

        Amanda, I turned most notifications off on my phone. I also keep it on silent now unless I think that I will be needed by my son or husband for a time sensitive thing. This means I check my phone on my time and it doesn’t interrupt my work. I really like the peace that’s brought… However, I definitely still check it way too often. 🙂

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:34am 04 May - 2017 - Reply

        It definitely serves more of a purpose in those less fulfilling moments – like commuting, or waiting in line, or waiting for someone to meet you. Certainly, for me, when you I am disengaged at work. You can see how when you are on vacation, or absorbed doing something fun with your family, or even just taking a walk in the park how that check your phone itch it has less hold over you. Clearly, the ability to get absorbed in good things is part of the solution. Re-learning how to focus. This is why I love Deep Work so much and need to read it again. Thank you, Amanda…

    9. Melanie of Mindfully Spent 11:21am 03 May - 2017 - Reply

      Thank you for this insightful article, Linda. I love Raptitude, and I’ll be checking out that additional resource. This reminded me of Mark Manson’s older article about the Attention Economy. He refers to attention, not money or education, as the new scarcity. In case you’re interested: https://markmanson.net/attention

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:42pm 03 May - 2017 - Reply

        Melanie – this article was amazing! It so perfectly crystallized this new phenomenon. I read every word, loved it. Cultivating focus is one of my biggest goals. This is why Deep Work is one of my favorite books ever, even though I am not, like, super into my career.

    10. Mrs. Picky Pincher 10:21am 03 May - 2017 - Reply

      Very true. It’s important to stay alert to the amount of time we spend in front of our screens. I’ve found that meditating twice a day has been great for focusing my attention more towards things that matter instead of, say, more cat videos.

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:44pm 03 May - 2017 - Reply

        I need to make some progress with meditation. I have just never been able to achieve any consistency with a meditation practice.

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