We all live in the Attention Economy
The most precious thing we can give to anyone or anything, particularly to our children, is our attention.
And the biggest Silicon Valley companies are all racing to dominate our precious attention. Facebook. Google. Apple.
But these platforms may have gotten too good for our own good. Recently, a number of technology insiders have sounded the alarm on the digital economy’s pervasive attempts to get us and our kids to continuously click, comment, scroll, like, and share.
Sean Parker, the notorious Napster creator and the founding president of Facebook, has accused the world’s biggest social network of deliberatly “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
In a candid interview with Axios, Parker said Facebook was built on one goal: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” he said of Facebook. “It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
In a recent essay, Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, also warns us about the motivations of tech companies.
“Let’s admit it, we in the consumer web industry are in the manipulation business,” he writes. “We build products meant to persuade people to do what we want them to do. We call these people ‘users’ and even if we don’t say it aloud, we secretly wish every one of them would become fiendishly addicted.”
In a blog post, Facebook itself has started to acknowledge that social media can be harmful to your mental health. Passively scanning Facebook for even 10 minutes can put you in a bad mood, and liking or clicking on too many posts can hurt your sense of well being.
In her article for The Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University explains how abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states, including depression and anxiety, are being correlated with increased smartphone and social media use.
So what’s the solution? Look in the mirror
It’s up to the users—you, me, your kids, everyone—to make sure we’re aware of how addictive technology can get, and to act accordingly. Sure we can blame Facebook, Google, Apple, and Netflix for us becoming addicted to their products. But as I tell my kids: maybe it’s their fault, but it’s your responsibility.
Here are some ways you can prevent Facebook and Instagram from taking away too much of your attention:
- Remove Facebook and Instagram apps from your family’s phones. You can always use FB and IG on your computer, but without the apps, you won’t be tempted to constantly whip out your phone and get distracted.
- Disable notifications for FB and IG. If you simply cannot live without the apps on your phone, at least disable the notifications. Here’s how to do it on iOS and Android.
- Go on a Facebook/Instagram diet. Set an example by spending at least a day (or try a week if you’re brave enough) without checking your feed, and you see how you feel. You might actually like having some social media silence.
- Speaking of silence, don’t contribute to the noise. Really consider what you’re posting every day. Does the world need another photo of latte art, as cool as it might seem to you in the moment? Another bathroom selfie? Really?
- Don’t contribute to fake reality. It seems that there are no unhappy people on social media. Everyone has it all figured out. The reality is that we can and should use social media to share our authentic feelings, not just the polished pictures we want everyone to see. It’s not a competition to see whose lives are more perfect! Be honest. Be genuine.
- Stop taking your phone to the restroom. I’m not sure if there’s been any research done on this, but I would bet that the average time people spend in the restroom had tripled in the past few years. I don’t think our digestive systems have changed that much to justify the extra lost time.
- Social media is like email: There’s always more to read. Just like with email, we’ve learned to better manage our time and only check email during specific times of the day, or at least, that’s what we should be doing. Take the same time management approach to your social media.
- Here’s a really novel idea: How about making a resolution to spend more time with your family and friends in real life? Like, face to face. If social media is making you unhappy or anti-social, getting out and meeting people you enjoy and care about should be the antidote to those depressive feelings.
In the Attention Economy, time is the most precious commodity. Just as you’re careful about how you spend your money, learn to spend your time more wisely. Facebook is great for connecting with friends and family, but no single platform should deserve so much of your attention.
Alon Shwartz is the CEO & Co-founder of unGlue, the world’s first collaborative technology that empowers people to manage their digital distraction and screen addiction Shwartz, a father of three, is passionate about technology and people.