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Technology is destroying the most important asset in your life

The big digital platforms are in a battle for our attention at a great cost to us. We must wake up to and start to change.

Every time you look at your phone or your computer, you enter a battlefield – the one where your attention stands as the lone target of the battleships Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

The Scenario is all too familiar:

Waiting for your date to get back from the bathroom, you take out your phone to check your email. Fifteen minutes later you find yourself watching a video on a site you never even knew existed after having clicked from one news bit to the next. You had no intention of doing that, it just happened.

What happened? The battleships hit their target with pinpoint accuracy: your attention was very successfully and solidly snagged.

You may feel like a fool falling again down this digital rabbit hole, but don’t. You had no choice in the matter.

As Tobias Rose-Stockwell writes on Medium: “The digital rabbit hole you just tumbled down is funded by advertising, aimed at you. Almost every “free” app or service you use depends on this surreptitious process of unconsciously turning your eyeballs into dollars, and they have built sophisticated methods of reliably doing it. You don’t pay money for using these platforms, but make no mistake, you are paying for them — with your time, your attention, and your perspective.”

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The war is on for our attention. And our attention is a precious resource we need for a productive and meaningful life.

And we are losing that battle. What we lose in time and attention every day, social media platforms gain in billions of revenue in advertising and subscriptions.

We have to take back control of our time and attention, but it’s not so easy. It’s a battle you and I have probably lost already. Many of us are addicted to technology.

Last year, Tristan Harris, a former Design Ethicist at Google, shared on 60 Minutes how Silicon Valley engineers our phones, apps and social media to get us hooked and create product functions that exploit our mental impulses.

“They find blind spots in our perception, and they use them to influence our behavior without us realizing. Every notification you receive, every email you get, and every website you browse is carefully created to ensure that you maximize the time you’re engaged with the company’s product,” writes Quartz

Now that we can see more clearly what’s going on, we must take steps to claim back our time and claims on our attention.

Tristan Harris launched a nonprofit called Time Well Spent, which is devoted to stopping “tech companies from hijacking our minds.”

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He suggests some simple steps on what you can do to take control of your phone, but also have some other suggestions here for you on how to claim back precious time and attention that will improve the quality of your life.

1. Learn to sustain your attention

MBSR is a popular eight-week mindfulness training course that has been shown to improve cognitive ability including the ability to focus.

In a 2010 study published in Consciousness and Cognition Journal, researchers 24 people received four sessions of mindfulness meditation training. The control group had 25 people that listened to an audio book.

The brief mindfulness training was found to significantly improve visual-spatial processing, working memory and executive functioning but also the ability to sustain attention. This is good news, because previously it was thought that only experience meditators acquire these benefits from mediation.

This means that you can gain the same benefits even if you have never meditated and even if you meditated for a short while. At any rate, mediation practice is said to benefit people on many levels, so it’s worth a try.

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2. Refuse to multi-task

Multi-tasking is counterproductive. When we’re checking emails, browsing Facebook, downing coffee, paying for the ride to the office, checking notifications and answering a call, we’re not doing more than one activity simultaneously, but many activities in succession. That’s exhausting.

More than that: it’s harmful to your brain. Switching between tasks uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, which is the same fuel that your brain needs to focus.

“Even switching between multiple projects and work environments over longer periods leaves behind what business-school professor Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,” and it affects your ability to focus on the new task. Single-tasking with deep focus for extended periods helps fight these adverse side-effects. It’s both more productive and more attention-friendly,” reports Quartz.

Single-tasking where things get done sequentially benefits your brain and your general mental state. Do yourself a favor and leave the chaotic addiction of multitasking behind.

3. Simply and routinely disengage

Really, it’s possible. Many people are doing it and waking up to their actual lives again.

Most of us check our smartphone every few minutes, out of habit, not necessity. Our habit of constantly checking and checking again and again is bad for productivity and can leaves us vaguely if not overtly stressed. I know, I never check notifications at night, just in case there’s something I’d rather not know about before I close my eyes.

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In the mornings, I choose to leave my phone off for at least two hours so I can get some real work done. This habit has served me well and given me peace of mind in the mornings when I do my best work. I’m sure the world won’t come to an end just because I decide to disengage for two hours. I’m sure it’s true for you as well.

NOW READ: This simple hack stopped me from being a slave to technology

***Do you want to be a stronger person? Do you want to stare down your challenges and overcome any obstacles? If so, check out our eBook: The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Mental Toughness.

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Notable replies

  1. ACD says:

    We have more ways of communicating than ever and at speed unknown during most of human civilization, but the effectiveness of communication at the inter-personal level is worse than ever. Why? One reason, I believe, is that we allow others excessively to speak for us and this inculcates in us a habitual laziness and an unwillingness to engage in sustained conversation on common ground.

    I do not use cell/mobile phones and, to the extent possible, I avoid calling them. I have gradually adopted the habit over the past twenty years of communicating, for the most part, in writing by email and, when phone/skype is more effective, by appointment wherever possible. The scene of masses of people glued to hand-held gadgets as they commune in public, or even as they have a drink or a meal with another, is most amusing to me as I look on from my analog perspective.

    To my mind, one thing is for certain: the massive investment and revenue which digital technology represents must be very important for reasons that go far beyond financial gain. China’s social credit scoring is merely a less subtle form of what has been unfolding aggressively through the collusion of social media platforms with government eavesdropping and surveillance. This is not at all amusing.

  2. I can compare the world of today with the world of 1953 when I was 10. The bottom line is that the human mind has much more content available today. Compare what the poor had in their homes today compared to 1000 years ago. Technology helps everyone and technology is growing really fast. Humans are just along for the ride as their DNA uses technology to improve itself. One of the most difficult tasks for just people is to find others to communicate with that will lift their knowledge of the universe. There is a lot of universe to learn so please make an effort to help.

  3. ACD says:

    I must say: this is an astoundingly strong-form Darwinian view of creation and one for which I personally see no evidence.

  4. ACD says:

    @BillAmes

    James Tour’s lecture is fantastic. Thanks.

  5. That is so obvious. However, if religion is no longer requiring faith then when will there be more current events that can not be explained? The other possibilities is that aliens from the first civilizations are now so advanced they are visiting every place and planting seeds of life. Perhaps it is the basis of their religion and they know any civilization that reaches a level to understand that will also have had religious revelations to support religion. Please reply to my post with the video so we can carry a discussion there.

  6. ACD says:

    Religion is an attitude: a humble attitude (we have no understanding of the mystery) on the part of the created (humans and everything else) is appropriate with respect to the creator (the first cause, unmoved mover). This is a religious (faith-based) attitude.

  7. ACD says:

    I do not think that the purpose of religion is to provide an origin of life explanation. I think it is born out of a belief in the mystery of life which, I maintain, is an attitude rather than a reason.

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Written by Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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