Let’s face it, we all have a media addiction. Apart from going completely off the grid there is no way to avoid it. On average adults over the age of eighteen spend more than eighty one hours every week consuming some type of media — TV/radio/computer/phone. There are no groups exempt from this daily information overload (sorry Generation X). Catchy headlines are imbedded in sneaky places: they flash across the bottom of TV screens, pop up at the top of your Google search, and are played out on a radio stations we use as background noise. Try and read “For a great low rate you can get online, go to the general and save some time.” without getting a jingle stuck in your head. Now if you really want to remember that jingle forever →watch Shaq’s video ← of himself rapping the jingle. Whether we are stuck on the latest HBO series or flipping to the seven o’clock news, we are in contact with some form of media more than I’d like to think. It’s really, really hard to unplug — even if you ditch the smartphone, you surely use some type of computer at work, and in between a few Excel spreadsheets there’s always time to head over to ESPN, CNN, BuzzFeed or Reddit to check out the latest news. Where we decrease consumption through one channel of media, we likely make it up with another.
Scarcity of information is clearly not an issue and our struggles from overconsumption creates absentmindedness and lessens our ability to focus.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
— Herbert Simon
For most it seems that there is no choice as to what amount of media is consumed throughout the day, but we can all recognize and be aware of what we consume. As seen below, there are staggering statistics on our time spent connected to media daily.
Tim Wu (author of my latest read Attention Merchants) expresses his concern over our freedom from big brother and the sophisticated algorithms responsible for suggesting/recommending the next Netflix series or YouTube video. Platforms that have given consumers *a choice* of personalized programming have historically made the end users much more engaged. When the TV was first introduced into homes, it required effort to walk across the living room and change the channel, but with the invention of the remote control, that changed quickly. The remote control created more active users than before as it offered a customized experience, it allowed for channel surfing to be the norm. As soon as a viewer would lose interest, with a click and point they were now able to flip through dozens of shows in seconds. The more able we are find content that interests us, the stronger the grip on our attention becomes. My personal vice, YouTube, is so attractive because of the perceived control to choose between the millions of short clips uploaded daily.
Our media platforms and channels can be anything from a cooking blog to a gaming console. Most younger individuals unsurprisingly prefer phones while older generations always choose TV, even if that means re-runs of I Love Lucy. When Apple added the screen time feature to really show us all the addictions (literally) at hand and my report showed I was spending 200+ minutes per day on my phone. I was embarrassed. While I do not believe all time I spend on my phone is useless. I do believe; however, there are better and worse ways to let hours pass by while staring at a four inch screen — one capable of accessing the greatest accumulation of knowledge that the world has ever seen. Our screen-time is customizable no matter what device we pick, but it is very apparent how we can tailor information on our smartphones. Every time we unlock our phones and open Candy Crush or Instagram, we make a decision of what we are putting inside of our minds.
“What is it that is so interesting about what’s happening everywhere else but where you are?”
― Eric Overby, Senses
Social media receives the most attention and also receives it’s fair share of blame for consuming so many hours of our day. Most view excess social media consumption as a negative, which more often than not seems to hold true. But the content on social media is no different than any other media source we may choose to consume. We interact on our platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) the same way that primates on Animal Planet would use social grooming in groups. Staying up to date on old friends starting new families isn’t inherently negative. But living in envy while watching others live lives that seem so amazing and comparing them to your own is dangerous.
“Much like an upscale art gallery, we choose what pictures to post, what moments to snap, what statuses to share. We edit and filter, and why not? In a world where we’re struggling to make our place, we want to — to borrow an old adage — put our best foot forward. There’s nothing wrong with this. So long as we are aware that what most people propagate online is merely a highlight reel. It has been rigged to appear perfect. As such, it should not be used as a measuring stick when comparing ourselves to others.”
— Kaitlyn Guay
Unfollowing people and being purposely uniformed on topics that do not interest you is a way to narrow down the massive amount of information thrown our way. No sane person would argue that we have enough time to watch hundreds of Snapchat stories, comment on recent tweets, and know the score to every mid-season NBA game while still knocking out a full to-do-list. Staying up to date used to be reading one newspaper and watching an hour long segment of local news. That is not so anymore. We want to always be in the social loop for conversational purposes, but with the amount of content generated today not only is that impossible, it is also detrimental. (YouTube has roughly two human lifespans worth of new video posted in any given 24hr window~1.26 million hours vs. average human lifespan~694,000 hours. The Washington Post alone claims to publish an average of 1,200 stories, graphics, and videos per day). If you want to truly see how useless most news is, try reading a paper from last week. Ask yourself how these outdated articles have personally effected you within that last week. The journalists writing hundreds of columns per week have long since moved on from those stories that they were likely uninformed on to begin with. They’re now writing about the next hot button ever so pressing issue, which will surely be outdated by dozens of articles on the same topic in a matter of days.
When you stop taking note of every minute political conversation, or didn’t catch the end of last award show, some may view you as “out of touch” or ignorant. There is some level of knowledge that may need to be held in order to make decisions such as voting, but in reality you can inform yourself via trusted sources, summaries, and excerpts all in a few hours to save you time. There is a fine line between staying informed and staying unproductively busy.
Shane Parrish, (Farnam Street) suggests that we should ***stop reading the news *** entirely.
As humans we are hard wired to emulate our idols, When we watch enough reality TV or faithfully listen to a podcast, eventually we will start to mimic behaviors of the individuals we pay so much attention to every day. When our thoughts are focused only on the crime highlighted on local news, what next virus outbreak is going to take us all out, the never ending Presidential impeachment, or Jenna’s recent influencer trip to Bali — it’s easy to see how we are plagued with pessimism and become cynical. We replace our car filters, HVAC filters, drink filtered water, yet it is uncommon for us to filter what we spend so much time consuming throughout the day.
These people and shows we follow can be our filters for thousands of hours of podcasts, videos, hundreds of books, recommending health and wellness tips or a recent book that’s a great read. Those we follow will do almost the work for us. Similar to rebuilding a habit (←self promoting a previous post of mine on habits), rather than trying to drastically alter behavior, we can keep the cue and reward systems the same while replacing the stuff in the middle. This process is important more now than ever because simply by curating social media feeds differently we can either be inspired or defeated. We have countless options now to tailor exactly what information we are intaking.
“No one learns in a vacuum. People are incredibly social creatures, and the way we learn is very often a direct result of those around us. We learn to speak from hearing our parents, we learn how to interact from everything around us, and we often learn by imitating others.”
— William Bonney
We learn so much from those around us, and have access to so many great thinking, motivating, and passionate people. By curating feeds and choosing to follow those we want to be like, whenever we are faced with decisions, most likely we will fall into the pattern of those whom we pay most attention to. When we are aware of what people and information we surround ourselves with, we take a step toward becoming someone we want to become.