We don’t have control of our attention anymore. Social media has it.

I worked for digital advertising agencies for many years. One of my main duties: make people click on my brand content or social ads and stay connected. Interact. Like. Comment. Share. Buy my product. Recommend it. Do it all over again. 
 
I had to make reports and show the effectiveness of my daily job. If it wasn’t reaching or engaging the number of people set in our goal, it wasn’t going well. 
 
At the same time that we were there, struggling to create social campaigns to keep people online, we were posting in our Facebook personal profiles clichés updates to enjoy life out of the Internet. We spend much time online. Enjoy life outside. Isn’t it ironic?

Photo was taken in June 2016 on a street in Dublin, Ireland.

Working with digital advertising also means working with attention. We need to get people’s attention. Getting someone interested in our content/product is a challenge among this deluge of information available online. It’s the attention economy era. Some researchers say that we check our phone more than 100 times per day. It doesn’t surprise me. Why do we do that even though we are aware that we spend a lot of time doing so? One of the reasons is our search for pleasure. Every new information, like a new message on Facebook, a new reply, a new email, etc., causes a rush of dopamine to the brain, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. And we want to feel good. And even more. So here we are, addicted to our smartphones.


I like to study and critically think about how technology is changing our brains. What surprises me is that it can indeed rearrange our biological structure. As it has been pointed by Nicholas Carr in his book “The Shallows: What Internet is doing to our brains”, “neuroscience researchers reveal that our brains change in response to our experiences. In the modern society, it has changed. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways”.

I once read an incredible article here on Medium regarding reading in digital era. Being addicted to our phones has messed up our concentration because we are always looking for a new bit of information. I can relate that when it comes to books. Although I still read a lot on the Internet, especially here on Medium, I’m not reading as many books as I used to read years ago. I can’t concentrate as much and it is a daily struggle to stay one hour (!!) without checking my phone.

This constantly need to check our phones makes us also addicted to temporary happiness and instant rewards. We need to keep this cycle to get more and more.

When this addiction brings anxiety

I found myself more anxious lately. Having the need to constantly check our phones and get a notification as a reward makes us anxious and also impatient. I know I’m not alone here. I remember a time that I would wake up very anxious in the middle of the night and would instantly get my phone to check if there was something new to bring me a relief.

As social media makes everything easily close, quick and instantaneous, we tend to expect it from everything. We need to rock our career immediately, achieve an overnight success, be the first to get to somewhere. We want what we want now. It can’t be tomorrow.


In my industry, being multi-tasking is a demand. In many job interviews, it is a requirement. It’s good to do many things at the same time. No, it’s not. Multi-tasking is killing our ability to concentrate. It distracts us from deep thoughts and deep readings. It makes our attention vulnerable. But our attention is a commodity now. Can we take back control of it? Can we value again spending time on only one thing per time? Can we say again that it’s important to focus on one thing per time? Can we agree that we are bringing to work environments the same culture that we have on social media? Stop glorifying skipping from one thing to another. Let’s face that it doesn’t do any good to our brain.


Lost in my thoughts as always, I was recently thinking about it and relating this addiction to social media and attention to modern relationships. 
 
Think about Whatsapp. This app gets our attention most of the time. We spend a lot of time talking to people over there. Don’t we? We wait for a text, we have groups, we share pictures, we put a lot of efforts in our online conversations. I wonder if we could catch up face to face as much as on Whatsapp. 
 

People never have enough time. They are always busy with their lives, mostly with their work. I used this excuse so many times. “Sorry, I can’t make it today, I’m busy/tired/working till late”. But I would eventually make time for social media.
 
I like to meet people and have a good chat, a good conversation and forget about social media for a while. However, most of the time that I go out with my friends they are constantly checking their phones. It makes me think that it is more pleasant for them to check social media than be out there.
 
Why do we have more time to catch up online and not in person? Sometimes I see myself putting a lot of time and efforts in conversations that would be faded to be online only. Does it worth? Is it meaningful? Is it keeping me away of what really matters? I find that it only keeps us into shallow relationships. And this is something that I want to keep away from my life. I want to have time for people. I want to think that people have time for me as well.