May I have your attention, please?

A lesson learned by a Twitter addict


I do not know who you are as you read this, but I am grateful for your time. I sincerely mean that, and I choose to communicate it by taking time to tell you that I know your attention is valuable. You could be doing anything else right now and I want to be responsible with the gift you have given me.

In the year 2017, I found myself addicted to Twitter. I am sometimes ashamed of this fact but I continue to learn from my mistakes and would like to share the most meaningful one: your attention is precious only to you.

To social media giants, your attention is something they can sell to advertisers. They’re not the only culprit of abusing your attention, so I write this article to share what I have learned in my attempts to take control of my attention back from the heroin of information that is Twitter.

Have you ever sat down on the couch, queued up your Netflix show du jour, and found yourself an hour or two later scrolling your phone endlessly? This has happened to me in solitude and in company. Sometimes I’ll find myself doing this standing in the grocery store after looking up a recipe on my phone. I’ll often subject myself to this endless stream of attention-grabbing content after responding to a single push notification (side note: push notifications are evil and you should turn them off). Why does this happen so frequently? It is because humans are bad at being bored.

Do you remember the last time you were bored? What did you do in response to your boredom? If I had to guess, you probably decided to check your phone. My default is to pull out my attention-hungry device and browse Twitter or Reddit for interesting content. This habit formed while I was in school and was often bored by the subject material of classroom lectures and was only exacerbated when I was no longer in school and had free time completely to myself.

The real problem here is that boredom leads to creativity. If I am never truly bored — if I live in a world in which I am always, ever entertained — then my ability to create is hijacked. And for what purpose? That is also easy to generalize: captive attention yields affect. Since you’re near the end of this article, I think this article itself is a perfect example. You have given me approximately 3 minutes of your time and I have used that time to communicate a message. What happens next is the affect of that message. What will you do in response to the things you’ve just read?

Affect, not information, is the coin of the realm in the world of social media.
Michael Sacasas

What I hope you decide to do after reading this article is to notice when you’re bored and to let yourself be bored in a better way than mindlessly scrolling on your phone. Instead, pick up a book and read, even if it’s a boring book. Go for a walk. Write in a journal. Create something. I change my strategy for boredom every day.

All of those activities are better for you than surrendering your attention to someone else who might not be as careful how they use it. Thank you, again, for entertaining my thoughts. Let me know what you think by adding a comment.

Related and recommended reading:

Audience Overload — Michael Sacasas

How social media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump — Zeynep Tufekci

What Boredom Does to You — Manoush Zomorodi