A new case for making the switch — quit continuous partial attention to strive after living on your own terms
The Social Media journey started in 2009. I signed up for the big blue app when spending a high school year abroad in Birmingham, Alabama.
Not knowing what I was doing, I accepted every friend request I got. After all, I came to a new country and did not know anyone. It was fun at first and an excellent way to stay in touch with friends back home.
Now, 11 years and 1,600+ facebook “friends” later, I quit. I downloaded my data and left.
Social Media’s ad-based business model is not serving me anymore.
The benefits (an easy way to stay updated & connected) do not justify the cost (time spent in newsfeed, my data, and all the things you find below).
Most social media companies are in the business of making money with our attention and data. The more time we spend in their newsfeeds, the more ads we see and the more money they make. That’s why they are great at keeping us where they want us — glued to our screens.
How good you ask?
In 2017 screen time accounted for 90% of our personal time — Social Media Apps being a massive part of it.
I wholeheartedly agree with Adam Alter’s statement in the video.
We should spend this personal time developing ourselves, building something, and nourishing our relationships by engaging with our fellow human beings.
You already now that Social Media is not benefitting us anymore. But to be frank: it’s not only that. The reality is Socia Media is slowly taking the most valuable possessions from you, if you let it.
Your Attention Span
Quick swipe here, 30-sec video there, 140 character texts — the formats of social media are priming your brain to process short information and dividing your attention. Why? Because it makes you stay longer in the feed and scroll endlessly. You scroll until that quick new meme or video; then, you keep going.
This is called continuous partial attention, at term coined by Linda Stone in 1998:
“Continuous partial attention is not necessarily a dysfunctional state. However, it may lead to increased stress and decreased ability to focus and concentrate on the present moment, prohibiting reflection, contemplation, and thoughtful decision making. ” — Wikipedia
I have noticed a decreasing and scattered attention span on my own. It’s horrible. I had to use the Pomodoro timer all the time to be focused.
But now that I have deleted Facebook and Instagram, I am slowly gaining back my focus.
If you value your attention and focus, you should be aware of that concept when using social media.
There are many ways to procrastinate. Trust me; I used to be a student. However, the worst are Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. The reason is: they do not have a stopping cue.
When you want to take a short social media break, usually one thing happens: you spend more time in your newsfeed than you wanted.
You don’t realize where the time has gone. It’s not the same procrastination as doing the laundry, because at some point there is no more laundry. Newsfeeds and autoplay videos, however, are endless.
In addition to sucking your time, Social Media kills your productivity.
“But if you use your breaks to do a quick social media […] check, your attention gets fragmented, causing attention residue, resulting in a negative impact on what you were initially working on.”
So, to be more productive and accomplish the things you set out to do — think about deleting.
Your Free Will
The data privacy scandal around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica shows that the data we voluntarily give to Facebook can be turned against us (I highly recommend the documentary about it.)
The targeting based on our likes and clicks can be so specific that our newsfeed influences our world view.
In the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump’s team created psychographic profiles of facebook users to influence swing voters. They claimed to have 5,000 data points on every American. You all know the outcome.
Let that get into your head: a presidential election was heavily influenced by microtargeting the most influential voters based on social media data.
If you care about your choices and your free will, you might have to make the switch.
How much Social Media do you consume? Do you even know?
For me, it was one hour a day. That’s the average time I spend on Facebook and Instagram (tracked for Android with the “Stayfree” app). Try it and let me know how much it was for you. (Spoiler alert: It might be shocking. So better sit down.)
One hour a day, on average adds up to seven hours a week, 30 a month, 360 a year.
Imagine what you could do with that time. After all, time is our most valuable asset. We can not buy more of it. We can not get it back.
I would rather spend 360 hours a year writing, learning, or spending quality time with friends. How about you?
Do you ever feel happier after a 15 min newsfeed session?
The fact is: screens make us less happy.
Rage is a great attention keeper. Therefore, newsfeed algorithms are prone to show content that enrages us to keep us there.
As an example, I used to get all kinds of information about injustice, whether it was sad news related to the environment or crimes happening all over the world.
Yes, Social Media paved the way for a more connected world where we can see the injustices going on. But, the amount of bad news is inhibiting me from taking action where I can have an impact.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
I propose a better way: we ought to consume less devastating news online and improve the world around us by starting small and focusing on the things we can control.
Your Real Human Connection
Any minute spent on social media is taking away time that you could have spent in the real world.
Even worse, you might be in the real world at the dinner table, but the push notification shows that something happened. You pick up your phone, and you are gone. Gone into a world of show walking and superficial relationships.
Don’t trade real human connection for a quick dopamine rush cause my another like or comment.
Another effect that Social Media has on us: We become unable to appreciate the moment anymore.
Bored on the bus? Checking the newsfeed. Waiting in line? Checking the newsfeed. The conversation is slowing down? Checking the newsfeed.
Becoming aware of this problem, it makes me sad. Recently, I saw a guy trying to talk to a girl on the bus. But she was so caught up in her phone that he just gave up.
The sad truth is: technology is creating a world of introverts.
We have to work against this trajectory.
Taking the decision to leave social media comes with a few downsides.
You don’t get all the updates. You might miss a few viral videos. You might miss an event; you otherwise would have gone. It might make it harder to connect with someone.
But trust me, it’s worth it.
Not having that information overflow, enables you to focus on the things that you find meaningful.
The increased focus and time helps you create the reality you dream of creating.
Now, I challenge you to make a smooth exit
I know quitting social media is hard. All this has been a long process for me. I did not wake up and magically realized that I need to leave social media.
But one thing that has helped me tremendously was first to deactivate my accounts. Most social media companies offer that option. You can come back anytime without losing any of your data.
I did that for six weeks and saw incredible results. I felt better mentally, plus I was more present and productive when working towards my goals. After that I quit completely.
How many people contacted me to ask if something was wrong? None.
It made me realize:
Online no one matters, offline you do.
All this sounds so final, but it has only been the beginning of taking back my productivity, choices, relationships, time, and happiness.
The beginning of living life on my own terms and focussing on what’s meaningful and fulfilling.