I remember getting my first phone when I was 15. I got so hooked I would use it for nearly four hours a day. My family thought I was crazy to spend such long hours on the device. My internet speed was 256 kb/s. Today, my entire family is hooked on these devices. While the attention span of the average human being has reduced, blaming it completely on technology will not be fair. We went from watching TV once a week to 8+ hours of screen time a day. From long movies and TV series to short films to 15-second reels or TikTok videos. Reading a book for 30 minutes without any distraction seems difficult to me now.
After watching ‘The Social Dilemma’, I was not shocked that our attention spans are controlled by social media apps and notifications. I had discussed with a friend how many people cannot focus on real-life conversations and will immediately check their phones whenever there is a small alert or notification. It’s often that seen people stating they are busy and then get distracted by a message or call. I am no different.
Most of my books are on my devices. Since English is not my first language, a few times I have to google words to understand their meanings for which I need my phone. As I pick to unlock it, I see a notification. I respond to the message by a friend. The friend instantly reads the message and sends a reply. Now I have another pending message to respond to. I had replied to the previous message after 12 hours, so I feel the need to respond again but I am reading this book so I do not want to be distracted. However, the conversation is as interesting as the book.
Later that day, I am out with my friends. We order food. The food is served but you have to wait because one of the friends needs to share their meal. Not the actual food but its picture on social media. He posts an Instagram story that lasts 24 hours. They get replies and meanwhile, see what others are doing. In a minute, you’ve seen 7 friends eating different food, 4 friends traveling the world on a vacation, 3 others getting married and many more reposting pictures, videos and articles they have seen online.
How can we process all this information in a minute? Do we even need all this information?
While trying to find answers, I stumbled across the book called ‘Indistractable’ by Nir Eyal. The book speaks of social media as one of the factors of distraction, not necessarily the root cause of it. The book says that internal and external triggers distract us from achieving our goals. By making time with tractions (paths that lead us to our goal) and trying our best to ‘hack back’ distractions, we get closer to what we want.
One of the main distractions I would like to overcome is constantly checking my investment and cryptocurrency portfolio multiple times a day. Initially, I thought that it was at least more productive to track my investments than to watch reels on Instagram. But it had become just a way to distract myself while doing a task or being around people. I would like to focus on one thing at a time. Instead of eating and watching YouTube, I would like to put my focus on enjoying my meal. Instead of listening to a podcast and working out, I would like to do both the things separately.
One method I have used from the book is to maintain a record of the distractions. When, where, and why did the distraction occur? What can I do to avoid this in future? I have recently started practicing it but I’m still getting myself distracted. However, now I am aware and more conscious that this is happening. While reading or working, whenever I check my phone, I know I need to stop myself and not let the temptation take over. While I am not sure if I have all the right tools and reasons to get there, I am on the path to find them.
Would really want to hear your experiences of getting distracted and staying focused, and how do you manage to do it in this time and age. Please let me know in the comments below.