On Attention (Originally posted September 24th, 2018)

Context #

Since I started at NC State in August of 2015, I have thought a lot about what conditions allow me to perform the best mentally. That includes everything from my personal schedule, to what I commit myself to doing, to what’s on my phone and what I do in my “free time.” In these years, a dominating aspect of these considerations has been the apps and websites that I frequent: reddit, instagram, snapchat, facebook, twitter, etc. The primary focus of these thoughts has been this: does using these websites change the way I interact with the world? If so, is it for the worse? The answer seems obvious to me (spoiler: no), but it’s hard to come to terms with.

Here are some links to a few things that have made me think even more about this aspect of life.

  1. Recent podcast that reinvigorated my thinking about this: Hello Internet 108
  2. Straw that broke the camel’s back getting me to implement the solutions I talk about below: CGP Grey - Thinking About Attention
  3. Blog post related to number 2 CGP Grey - Project Cyclops
  4. Post written with a co-intern while I was at WillowTree this past summer (May - July 2018): Are developers responsible for promoting healthy user engagement?

Problems #

Thinking about the problems #

Attention span #

My rationalization for using these sites boils down to this:

“I get a decent amount out of using these sites. I keep up with people, I learn new things, and I stay current on topics of interest.”

It’s all true, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s all crap. I don’t need all of these services consistently available to me in my pocket. Having the choice to not pay attention to the activity at hand is a very easy choice to make and eliminating that definitely takes away a large mental burden. I still think about being able to pull these sites up, but over time I know it will become less of a default action in my mind.

Free time #

Thinking about free time brings up a point with how I disagree with the video/blog post linked above (2 and 3): I don’t think all of the mentioned forms of media need to be eliminated. The big differentiating factor for me is memory and necessity. Here’s how I categorize some of them:

Solutions #

So far this is working well. I have spent more time reading (something I have been working on doing in the long-term), I have spent less time being anxious about wasting time, and I have had more (as in quantity) meaningful free time.

Going forward? #

I don’t know if I’ll keep this restriction at the same level, remove more of these sites from my life (maybe less on the computer too?), or allow them back in slowly. I’ll at least keep them out for the remainder of the semester which is until December of 2018, but I love the changes so far, so I don’t see a reason to go back to the way things were.


Now read this

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