In the first part of this article, I tried to explain what the attention economy was and how it worked. In this second part, I will be looking into how the attention economy is affecting our lives and how we can regain digital control.
Let us look at what consequences the attention economy can have on us-the consumers.
An Everlasting Distraction
Think about how many times you check your phone per day. It’s hard to keep count, isn’t it? According to recent statistics, the average smartphone user unlocks their phone 150 times a day. With the different notifications, pop-ups, and messages, it becomes very difficult to get back to your workflow once interrupted. The continuous distraction deprives us of creating the conditions for concentrated deep work, which brings satisfaction and effective results.
A Toxic Relationship with Devices
On average, we use a gadget for 10 hours and 39 minutes each day. Not many of us are happy with how much we use our devices during the day and a lot of the time we are aware of how they affect our productivity, our social interactions, and our mood. Will this realization make us regulate the time spent on our devices, particularly our phones? No, we pick up our phones again to distract us from the uneasiness of our realization or to cheer ourselves up by sharing and getting likes.
Mindless Scrolling on Social Media
The infinite scroll is a built-in feature of social media feeds whose basic function is to automatically generate content the more the user scrolls through their feed. There is no bottom for a Facebook or Instagram feed, even if you have seen all the content shared by the profiles you follow. There is always some suggested content that might interest you.
“The scrolling doesn’t draw us in, but it keeps us there for much longer than we might be if the feeds ended, or if we had to click buttons to reveal new content,” says Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, and a professor at NYU, speaking about the infinite scroll. “People tend to function on autopilot until something inside their heads or in the world around them subtly or explicitly suggests it’s time to move on. Reaching the end of a feed is one such cue; removing the endpoint short-circuits that cue.”
The bottomless feed plays a major role in creating a mindless scrolling habit. The designer of the infinite scroll in 2006, Aza Raskin, said to the BBC that the innovation kept users looking at their phones far longer than necessary. “If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses, you just keep scrolling.’, said Raskin.
Developing an Addiction
According to an article published by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes, during positive interactions on social media, like receiving a notification or someone liking your picture, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. This chemical is associated with recreational drugs, food, sex, exercise, etc.
Behaviorist psychologist F.B Skinner explained in the 1930s how rewarded behavior is likely to be repeated. In the case of our use of social media, positive interactions are random rewards, and checking for them is easy. This makes the dopamine-triggering behavior a habit that we repeat ‘to feel good.’
A social media addiction involves broken reward pathways in our brain exactly like a gambling or substance addiction. According to TED, 5 to 10 percent of internet users are psychologically addicted. The immediate reward that social media provides is the attention we get from our network for little effort. The brain then rewires itself and makes you crave likes, comments, reshares, etc. Brain scans of social media addicts resemble those of drug addicts. There is a noticeable change in the areas of the brain responsible for attention, decision making, and emotions.
What Is the Future of the Attention Economy?
Companies will continue to design for attention in the future. Instagram, Facebook, and Snap, for example, are testing augmented-reality advertisements.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however! After receiving complaints from its users about attention-grabbing design and distraction, Apple responded by removing multiple notifications in quick succession on iPhones. It also introduced screen-time statistics which allow users to keep track of the time spent on electronic devices.
Can We Regain Digital Control?
I personally remember intentionally staying without internet during my freshman year at college. I would limit the time of my social media and internet usage to the time I go home by the end of the week. That had helped me be more productive, make time for my hobbies like reading and writing, and be present at every moment with a clear mind and not so much anxiety. I have then noticed over the years how my increased presence on social media had made me more anxious and affected my attention span. However, it did help me find many opportunities for personal and professional growth. So I do not think that complete isolation from social media platforms is the best option. There is a lot you can benefit from these platforms, but moderate use is crucial for a more meaningful and stress-free life.
Here are some suggestions to gain back control:
Becoming aware of how much time you spend on these platforms is an essential first step to get back control over your focus. Many of us may not realize how much time we are wasting on Facebook or Instagram through mindless scrolling, and there are specific applications and programs that help you keep track of your activity and the time you are spending on your devices.
By monitoring your digital activity, you can make sure that you have control over your time, remain focused and create space for more productivity and quality work.
Being mindful of your digital time is a great first step that will allow you to choose where to spend your time more and what is worth having your attention. You can remove apps that are not adding any value to your life or your time. Unfollowing accounts and profiles that may make you feel more anxious or depressed is also very helpful for a clearer mind. You can also consider using anti-distraction apps when you want to remain focused on your work for a long period of time.
There are also people who choose to set availability hours for email and Slack, so others know when to contact them and when they can receive a response.
It all comes down to creating the perfect conditions for yourself both online and in real life so that your work, creativity, mental health, and overall well-being do not get affected and you get to make the most of your time and your most precious commodity: your attention.
The responsibility does not only fall on the consumer to regulate their use of these platforms, but companies should also take into consideration how their products are affecting the well-being of their users. Some companies have taken these matters into consideration, but it is very important that we as consumers take matters into our hands and prioritize our well-being over all else. Technology keeps evolving and changing over time and we need to be more mindful of how this change is affecting us and shaping our lives.
Author: Meriem Saoud
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/highly-functioning-is-highly-dangerous/202009/my-name-is-dana-and-im-addicted-mindless