It’s 2016, and Skynet doesn’t need to send Terminators to wipe us out. A new gaming app ought to do the trick.
I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed, made starving and hysterical by Kim and Amber posting a selfie.
The over-the-top tomfoolery of the current election in the U.S. The crumbling of even minimal scientific literacy. The Kardashians.
We’re living in a culture that can’t stop asking if it can haz cheezburger, and it is rendering us … stupid.
Right? Wrong? Maybe.
Yes, we are distracted
And yes, that’s a problem.
I asked the most “plugged-in” person I know, Howard Rheingold — he’s Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future, as well as a Studied Lecturer on Virtual Community/Social Media at Stanford — what he thinks about social media distraction.
Here’s what he had to say about it:
It’s legitimate to claim that our use of social media may be making us shallow, and it’s hard to dispute the finding of [the] Pew Internet and American Life survey that one in six Americans admit to bumping into someone or something while texting and walking …
If you’re looking for reason to despair at the future of our civilization, all you need to do is get into a car. The roads are blocked with drivers pulling ever-more random moves while updating Periscope and playing game after game of Dumb Ways to Die, Cruel Irony Edition.
Everyone in my circle has been talking about Cal Newport’s latest book, Deep Work. His core point — that you can excel in many pursuits and professions simply by cultivating an ability to focus — is an intriguing one.
I don’t agree with everything in Newport’s book. His chapter on social media is a little embarrassing. But I think he’s onto something with his focus on … focus.
He’s not alone, of course. As always in times of profound social change, there’s a long list of backlash books, including Nicholas Carr’s lauded The Shallows (which, maybe intentionally, takes its time in getting to the point) as well as more strident polemics like Andrew Keen’s The Internet Is Not the Answer.
Many of the critics worry about permanent brain changes (or damage, depending on your viewpoint) caused by chronic distraction.
We know now that our environment does physically change the brain in significant ways — and, in fact, that technology has always deeply changed us.
Whether or not the worst of these changes are irreversible is hard to say. The science is very new, and it’s a bad internet habit to get overly attached to the latest breathless “reporting” on neuroscience.
But we are getting rewired, and it’s probably a good idea to keep an eye on that.
Yes, social media is a big part of the problem
We have games, and apps, and on-demand information, and hyperlinked text, and all of these are shaping us.
But probably no technology is as guilty of the dark side of distraction as the internet social platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Blab … wherever it is that you like to hang out instead of thinking about something thorny.
Even when they’re valuable, social platforms can gobble a depressing amount of time. Worse is losing time and energy getting into internet squabbles with people who have no commitment to any form of critical thinking.
Note that even Neil DeGrasse Tyson got sucked into a fight about whether or not the earth is round. (Spoiler: Yes.)
We have more access to shocking stupidity than we ever have before. We get to see the outpourings of everyone’s sad, ignorant uncle on Facebook. Entire political candidacies have been based on this.
(And because of confirmation bias, I have my own candidate in mind when I write that … and you have yours when you read it.)
I’m not young enough to be a digital native, but I’ve been online longer than many of them have. (That’s why I sometimes call myself a Social Media Ent.)
I’ve been in online communities since 1989 — and they’ve looked surprisingly similar in all that time. They’ve always taken a lot of time and mental energy, and bickering has always played a bigger role than we might hope.
So should we quit virtual community?
So is the answer to just stay away from online communities altogether? Are they a complete waste of time?
Well … I met Brian Clark online. I met Chris Garrett online. I met Pamela Wilson online.
In fact, I made a digital connection first to every person who works in my company.
Social media platforms (I happen to like Twitter) are the water cooler that lets my distributed company goof off together. I can talk quilting with Andrea, watch for Florida Man sightings with Jess, and promise Jerod $100 if he’ll wear a granny-square sweater vest to our live event in October.
I’ve been a deep participant in a fair number of virtual communities, including granddaddies like The WELL and GEnie.
And from that experience, I can tell you with certainty that digital community is real community.
It allows for shallowness (and so does any church picnic), but it does not require shallowness.
For those who seek deep connections, online communities can be places to share joys and sorrows, argue, make up, form close friendships, find romantic relationships, and help one another grieve.
The internet is not going away
We don’t really get to opt out of a world shaped by distraction, any more than people who lived through the Industrial Revolution could opt out of a world shaped by mass production.
We can control what we do, how we connect, what we choose to adopt or not. But the world is the world. The economy is the economy.
The internet provides opportunities to do things we couldn’t do before. From my Ent-like perspective, the key is to keep paying attention, to take advantage of the benefits, and to cultivate habits that mitigate the damaging aspects.
People have been arguing against the changes brought by revolutionary technologies at least since Socrates decried the newfangled, memory-destroying technology of writing.
Walter Ong wrote that, despite the beauty and artistry of oral culture, written language is:
… absolutely necessary for the development not only of science but also of history, philosophy, explicative understanding of literature and of any art, and indeed for the explanation of language (including oral speech) itself … Writing heightens consciousness.
There’s every reason to think that internet-enabled culture will do the same, but we will surely lose something along the way — just as we did when we moved from an oral to a written culture.
The power (and tyranny) of options
There’s one point about social media that I’ll agree with the critics on: if you don’t find it valuable, you don’t have to be there.
There are plenty of experts who insist that we “have to be” on social media to promote a business or expand our professional networks.
But you don’t. If you don’t find value on the social web, don’t participate. If you have other rich and meaningful communities in your life, spend your time there. The powerful value of choice is … choice. We get to decide if it adds or subtracts.
You can follow Neal Stephenson’s example, which Cal Newport makes a great deal of, and stay off Twitter so you can focus on your work.
Or you can follow Neil Gaiman’s (or Salman Rushdie’s, or Margaret Atwood’s, or Gary Shteyngart’s, or Susan Orleans’s, or Augusten Burroughs’s, or … you get the picture) example and participate in a way that respects your creative output.
Even better, you get to cherry pick the technologies that serve you.
Ned Ludd, the 18th-century weaver whose name survives in the word Luddite, didn’t have the option of opting out. The industrial revolution was coming for his industry and his fellow artisans no matter what he did. He had no way to take control of the ultra costly means of production.
Today, as Brian Clark has said, the means of production are between our ears.
Here’s the rest of what Howard Rheingold had to say:
The technology itself may afford distraction, offer an opportunity for shallow thinking, but does not in itself force anything. The key is know-how: Look at your child, not your phone, when he or she is talking to you! And teach your children to pay attention to where they are directing their attention.
You have a luxury that few people on this planet have ever enjoyed before you. You don’t have to be born with a lot of money or means. You just have to choose — how (and whether) you’ll work with the new technology.
How not to haz the dumb
Man, it really feels like we’re getting a lot stupider as a culture.
Oddly, the evidence doesn’t support that conclusion. IQ appears to be steadily rising, a phenomenon sometimes called the Flynn Effect.
People living in the past just weren’t as smart as we think they were.
The San Francisco Chronicle had this to say about Nicolas Carr’s book:
This is a lovely story well told — an ode to a quieter, less frenetic time when reading was more than skimming and thought was more than mere recitation.
But our views of a rosy past are nearly always nostalgic fiction. The leisurely deep reader was always an anomaly.
Trust me, I was this person. Even at university, I was the oddball who read too much and earnestly flung myself into texts asking myself what it meant. I was lucky enough to find my tribe of fellow geeks and readers — and I found them online.
Facebook and the other social sites expose us to more outright dumb statements and expressions, from naive to ignorant. Those folks were presumably always that dumb. We just didn’t get wind of it before.
Which was, I’ll admit, kind of nice.
I’d like to propose ten “rules” (really just suggestions) I follow to get the best from the social web, while protecting my ability to focus and work. I hope you’ll find some or all of them useful.
#1: Schedule your distraction time
This smart suggestion comes from Newport’s Deep Work, and I’m getting a lot out of it.
You’re probably doing at least some time-blocking now, to schedule periods when you work on more focused projects. (If you aren’t, you should start.)
Newport suggests you also schedule the time when you’re going to take your “shallow” breaks — whether it’s to surf YouTube, log onto social media, build the Empire State Building in Minecraft or Lego, or whatever floats your relaxation boat.
Putting time boundaries around social media is a fantastic way to keep your connections without losing every minute of your productive time.
(By the way, I’ve been looking at apps to manage this for me — there’s no sense burning self-control when I can let the machine enforce the boundaries. So far I haven’t found one that’s just right, but if you have one you love, let us know in the comments!)
#2: Keep your phone in your pocket
This one is also from Newport, and it’s advanced — but it’s worth it.
When you’re waiting in line, waiting to get your meal at a restaurant, or (please) waiting at a red light … resist the urge to reach for your phone.
Let yourself be a tiny bit bored for a minute or two. Pay attention to what’s going on around you.
If you get truly desperate you might even have a conversation with the human being next to you.
Filling every second up with distraction will eventually turn you into an overgrown toddler who can’t tolerate even a moment of boredom or mental discomfort. And that is not a powerful person.
If you’re going out of your mind trying to figure out how to spend those three minutes, you can always do some mindfulness breathing.
The more panicked you’re getting thinking about doing this, the more you probably need to.
#3: Adopt the FFS rule
I have a social media rule that I use to keep out of flat-earth conversations. I call it the FFS Rule.
(That stands for For Freya’s Sake, of course.)
The first time I see something online (Facebook is the worst offender for me) that makes me say, “Oh FFS,” it’s time to log off.
If something genuinely egregious is happening, instead of getting into social media flame wars over it, write a letter to a legislator. Or find an organization that’s working to fix the Bad Thing and volunteer some time. Or even write a blog post or record a podcast.
Flame wars don’t change people’s minds; they just entrench everyone involved in their own smug funk of righteousness.
#4: Develop a critical thinking habit
“Do your research” is the “I know you are but what am I” of the 21st century. – My husband
The web offers an endless supply of nonsense — and we need our sharpest critical thinking skills to protect ourselves from foolishness.
When you see something compelling online, ask yourself, always, “What is the source of that statement and why should I find it credible?”
By the way, you’ll want to double down on any expressions that agree with your own biases. If it’s a statement that seems profoundly true to you, it’s worth a second and third look to make sure you’re evaluating the source fairly.
(Even then, you’ll be subject to confirmation bias. Recognize it.)
There are no reliable gatekeepers checking the facts for you. You’re responsible now for what you choose to find credible.
The ability to reserve judgment, to weigh the evidence, and to change your mind based on new evidence is a superpower. Grab it.
#5: Take advantage of opportunities to educate yourself
No, Google University doesn’t count.
But there are a lot of credible, deep resources that will allow us to study serious topics without enrolling in a university.
Maybe you’re like my real estate agent, who watches MOOCs on brain science in her spare time.
Or maybe you’d benefit from working on a “Personal MBA” under the guidance of Josh Kaufman, and sparing yourself the six-figure college debt.
There’s a juicy world of learning available to you. Go get it.
#6: Seek out meatspace
The online world can be rich and robust, but it is not the physical world. (Or “meatspace,” as my dorky virtual community friends have called it.)
When you can combine the two, the real power starts to kick in. If you can make a face-to-face connection with the people you know online, you’ll deepen the relationships and open up new possibilities.
If you’re energetic and ambitious, you can do without it. Jon Morrow and I became friends online and have never met face to face, because he has issues that prevent him from doing a lot of traveling.
But meatspace brings a nice depth if it’s an option.
#7: Explore analog options
It’s fun living inside the Matrix and all, but it’s also useful to venture into the world of physical objects.
Learn to change a tire. Cook. Use a pen and paper. Grow a little garden.
Virtual tools can be wonderful, but keep a few analog tools as well.
You don’t have to give up your Kindle, but consider keeping a commonplace book and rewriting your Kindle highlights out by hand, to hit some more synapses.
Read physical books sometimes.
#8: Read books
Nicholas Carr’s book opens with a somewhat shocking account of the many university professors he knows who don’t read books any more.
Read books. Not because it’s “good for you” or somehow virtuous — but because it’s a rare and cheap pleasure that makes you smarter and makes you happy.
Most people who don’t read books think there’s something they’re “supposed” to be reading. If you don’t like business books or 800-page biographies or “serious literature” — don’t read them.
If Harry Potter or Percy Jackson turn your crank, go for it. (Let’s face it, they’re terrific.)
But a book can pull you in and immerse you in a world of ideas like nothing else can.
If your attention span is too fragmented for books, don’t just switch to podcasts and magazine articles. Read books in short bursts. Sit down for a few minutes at a time (set a timer). Keep nudging the time up.
Podcasts are great, videos are great, Wikipedia is great. But as a wonderfully pleasurable way to train yourself to think more deeply, nothing replaces books.
#9: Practice mindfulness
It’s probably not a coincidence that mindfulness is having a major moment at the same time that our attention spans are atomizing.
Meditation or mindfulness practice are excellent training to improve your ability to focus. They also build a habit of setting aside distraction for the reality in front of you.
You don’t need to meditate for hours a day to get benefits, but I do recommend a simple daily breathing practice, rather than the pre-recorded “guided meditations” that are popular on some of the meditation apps. There’s nothing wrong with those, but regular doses of simple, straight-up breathing meditation will help counter the effects of the distraction revolution. (And if you’re too antsy to sit, walking meditation can be a great alternative.)
For an introduction to the idea of mindfulness practice, I found Dan Harris’s 10% Happier to be both readable and useful.
#10: Crack open your gurus
The word guru just means teacher.
But in the West, we have a history of getting into trouble when we try to create infallible beings out of the people who teach us.
Around the Copyblogger virtual office, a lot of us are reading that latest Cal Newport book … but there are a few places where I think he gets it all wrong. And that’s totally fine.
In fact, you and I may differ in where we see his advice as being on — or off — the mark.
Good teachers help you see things differently, and give you the background to think though a problem for yourself. It’s up to you to crack the advice open and pull out the important stuff.
Structures that used to keep us moving in a reasonable direction are falling apart. The norms are splintering — which creates tremendous freedom, but greater responsibility. You have to create your own structure.
Now, maybe this is a terrible thing. Maybe it signals the inevitable decline of civilization.
But it’s here.
So we all have to grow up, to think as critically as we can, to maximize the benefits of the advice we follow and the technologies we use, and make the best use we have of the decades we have to work with.
I’d like to know what you think …
What role is distraction playing for you these days? Do you feel like you have a handle on how to manage it?
Has the internet been a savior or a devil in your life — or perhaps some of both?
I’d love it to hear your thoughts in the comments …
Reader Comments (47)
Robert Samuel says
now i have realized how was i trapped in this virtual world without even known that I have been trapped. Yes I have been wasting my precious time just to make myself connected.
As well said this even cannot be shutdown as it has its own merits, will now analyze myself so that I am utilizing my time and not wasting it. Great Post @Sonia 🙂
Amy Butcher says
Fantastic, Sonia! For the past couple of years, I’ve been doing a lot of research in this topic. You can find a lot of examples through history about negative reactions to new media. Samuel Coleridge said that the reading of novels led to “… the entire destruction of the powers of the mind… it produces no improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler faculties of understanding.” An article in the American Annals of Education from 1835 talks about the gluttony of reading: “Thousands of young people spend their time in perpetual reading, or rather in devouring books. It is true, the food is light; but it occupies the mental faculties, for the time, in fruitless efforts, and operates to exclude food of a better quality.” Change “books” for social media and what’s changed? 🙂
In the 50’s and 60’s it was TV and Sesame Street that were dulling kids’ minds and making kids unfocused. Even with the rise of ADD diagnoses, the actual “attention span” hasn’t measurably decreased (at least not in any research I’ve found). One problem is that what we think of as “attention” is actually a very complicated intersection of a number of processes, which involve top-down attention, bottom-up attention, cognitive load, selective attention, selective perception or selective intensity, etc. Or basically how we select what we focus on based on our preferences, desires, needs, etc.
(Also, just to make people feel better, the whole 8-second fish attention span is also completely bogus!)
We get worried when things change, but just as scientists find that our brains are rewired with new technology, they also find that the brain quickly implements adaptive mechanisms. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s job, kind of like how the brains of stroke victims adapt to take over functions located in damaged areas. A lot of shoddy science reporting makes this phenomenon out to be something bad (which it can be in certain cases), but is nevertheless a very normal biological function.
Anyway, loved the post!
Sonia Simone says
I was thinking this morning about why we never get the utopias that new technologies predict. I think maybe we do get them, and don’t appreciate them.
I’m not a utopian about social media & the internet, but I think we can be wise about how we approach it in order to make the most of the benefits.
Calvin koepke says
This, I think, is key. I’ve been sucked into meaningless arguments countless times on social media, to the point where I made the rule (of which I try to keep as best I can) to not engage in “flame wars”.
On a side note, I think you’d be interested to read this crazy article I read just last night, on a similar perspective toward social media:
The Web We Have to Save
Sonia Simone says
wow, really interesting.
I think that like the rest of us, Derakhshan needs to watch what’s working to figure out which way to go next — but the time he spent in jail magnifies the gap, making that especially stark. Looking forward to seeing where he ends up …
I’ve avoided getting a smart phone for just this reason. I realize I’ll have to get one eventually, but I don’t want to turn into one of those people who’s always on them. Plus, it helps me separate work life from personal life if I don’t have constant access to email.
As it is, the more time I spend on, say, Pinterest, where the entertainment comes in a nonstop stream of rapid-fire bites, it seems like the harder it is for me to concentrate on one thing for a longer period of time (without taking little “distraction breaks”). But I’ve started reading books again in the last few weeks, and somehow, it’s more relaxing than spending an evening scrolling through a social media feed.
Sonia Simone says
Books are heaven, aren’t they?
You could do something radical (I do) and not install email on your smart phone. Mind you, I’m at my desk most of the time — but when I’m not at my machine, folks need to call or text to get me.
That’s a smart idea.
Madison Woods says
I too have been online since the doorway to the world looked like “c:>” instead of cute little pictographs. What amazes me now is that so many people are wasting so much time on things that do nothing to make them better equipped to get by in the world. Or maybe I just don’t get how the games might do that, or I don’t understand why the Kardashians are so interesting. But I too have been sucked into useless drama, although I’m a lot better at backspacing my way out of it nowadays.
In the end I think social media is doing a bit of both – some are getting smarter and some are getting dumber. I’m fortunate to have a lifestyle that demands regular interaction with nature, whether I feel like disengaging the matrix or not. I think that helps to maintain some sense of “place” in the real world.
Sonia Simone says
I think the social web has become very empowering for ignorant people — which is not necessarily a good thing.
Social Media Ents #ftw! 🙂
Totally agree that regular connection with nature is a wonderful reset button.
It is certainly a distraction! It’s funny how addicting it really is. Every time you hear the ringing of a notification or that slight buzz you want to immediately grab you phone and see what it is. I now work in 25 to 30 minute blocks and during that time I do not allow myself to check any messages. At first, the temptation to check as the notifications come pouring in is crazy. Until you start doing things like this you don’t realize how addicting it really is.
Sonia Simone says
Agree! I have most notifications turned off, and when I’m writing, I often put the phone in another room.
The ability to focus seems to be like a muscle — it can be strengthened, or you can let it atrophy.
John Armstrong says
I am taking my comments in a different direction regarding social media.
Several months ago I eliminated social media from my activities and have found life to be more enjoyable. There seems to be a perception with millions of folks around this world who seem to think that if it’s on the internet, it must be true and accurate. Civility and decency seems to be on a rapid decline when it comes to the interaction with others online. I got tired of reading about and dealing with this garbage and having it come into my life.
Each of these things can be seen daily on forums like Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, main stream news media and others. We see the politicians using social media to assist them in their campaigns, while at the same time maligning the reputations of opponents. They spread distortions, lies and half truths. And many of their readers, sadly to say, buy into what is being said. No politician is above doing this regardless of the side of the aisle he/she sits on. Mainstream media provides their slant / agenda on issues and do not fully investigate the issues through sound journalism practices.
Then there are the folks who post thoughts and opinions on these social media forums on just about any topic; whether underwater basket weaving to whether it’s PC to pick your nose while driving. We will see this on sites like Yahoo. Other folks take the liberty to rip people to shreds because they have differing thoughts or opinions on these topics.
I have found social media to be a place where many folks say things to others that they would not normally say in a face to face discussion without starting an altercation. The anonymity of the Internet via social media seems give people undeserving license to be uncivil to others. A sense of decency has gone to the wayside in our world. Then we wonder why the PC police are all over the place; whether dealing with politics, college campuses, newspapers, racial and gender issues, etc.
If we get right down the facts on these issues, social media is showing all of us there is decay in our society for things that were once valued; intelligence, civility, courtesy and decency. The problem is getting worse by the day. All you need to do is look around a doctor’s waiting room, restaurant and even while driving to see people with their noses buried into the screen of their cell phone seeing this take place.
Modern technology is a wonderful thing nowadays if properly used. If improperly used it can eventually lead to our demise via auto accidents, decay in social values,lost intelligence and being misinformed.
Tina Marie Ernspiker says
Balance is always difficult for me when it comes to blogging and family. I constantly have to remind myself about what it truly important! I don’t want to be social media dumb 😉 And social media is a big part of blogging. It can be sooo time-consuming!
Hashim Warren says
Sonia, my #1 tip is to have a project you can tinker on when boredom strikes.
While you’re standing in the checkout line can you outline a blog post, collect images that inspire, or research quotes that prove your point?
When I decide to cure boredom with fun creativity I find myself a lot happier.
Also, it helps me to choose the right online communities to pour myself into. I ignore Facebook, but I’m prolific in the Authority Forums. Why? Because wasting time with others who are working on the same things keep me focused on making progress with the stuff that matters.
Sonia Simone says
I’ve found being conscious about which communities you belong to is absolutely key. Even within Facebook or Twitter, your experience depends so much on your settings — who you’re connected with, how closely you’re connected, on Facebook which groups & pages you follow. I’m part of a very active & passionate group on FB and sadly it’s made me back away, because there’s always so much going on there that it becomes a time vortex. (I totally need a social media TARDIS to recover some of that time …)
Terry Retter says
“But the world is the world. The economy is the economy.”
Dealing with actual reality is frequently something we try to minimize and this is easy to avoid with emersion in social media that presents a world and economy to suit our individual perceptions. Problem is that sooner or later the world and the economy will rise up and force up into the real world with to frequent unintended consequences from not paying attention.
“If you don’t find value on the social web, don’t participate. If you have other rich and meaningful communities in your life, spend your time there.”
Managing our own behaviors while minimizing the influence of others (especially those with only minimal intimacy) can lead to better decisions. However, the magnetism of social media is strong. Finding acceptance is a strong incentive and too easily obtained in make believe worlds provided by many games.
Social media itself is not making us dumb. It is more of an individual decision whether conscious or unconscious. It was summed up pretty well a few years ago by Forrest Gump;, “stupid is as stupid does”
Great article. Yes it can be overwhelming. I schedule social media time after I have done my most important work in my business. Reading books, meditate and connect with people in real life is even better:-)
Dave Kinkade says
Balance is essential. I’ve committed to taking one day away from all media each week. This includes television. It is amazing how interesting and entertaining the world can be when you reduce the distractions of social media and focus on just one thing at a time.
Don Purdum says
Focus, or should we say lack of focus, is a serious, serious issue. It’s harder and harder to find employee’s who can master the skill of focusing on a single task.
The phone is going off with texts, social posts and who know’s what else.
The distractions at one time were so numerous in a previous company I had to create a policy that had real consequences.
Is it dumbing us down? By the standards you set forth I would have to say that it is. Are there benefits as well? Of course there are.
As others have commented, it’s a matter of discipline and focus. When I need intense time to think the phone just gets turned off. Problem solved, lol…
I appreciate the section of your article on creative thinking. It’s the one skill being lost and the one skill we may need the most!
Have an awesome week Sonia.
~ Don Purdum
Olle Lindholm says
Thanks for a timely article, Sonia!
At the moment, I’m writing my master’s thesis on cyberbullying, which requires both self-discipline and deep work.
I’ve deleted the Facebook app from my phone and tried to stick to pen and paper for the most part. I don’t know about you, but pen and paper work better for me, at least during the earlier stages of writing (a blank screen tends to bring out the perfectionist in me, and stops me from exploring my ideas).
So, to sum up I work in 30-50 minute time slots (the egg timer is my new best friend). Before I turn on my computer, I make sure I know why I turn it on in the first place. That practice has helped me become more focused and aware of my intentions. I check my social media accounts maybe once or twice a week, but I am more inclined to take part in special forums and groups on Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. That’s where I get a lot of value, so that’s where I’ll hang out! 🙂
Again, thanks for a thoughtful and well-written article!
Sonia Simone says
Best of luck with the thesis!
I’m a big fan of pen and paper, although I don’t write draft that way any more. But I work through ideas with a notebook & fountain pen.
Pete Reed says
I am 58 years old; an antique compared to many of you. I don’t engage with Facebook, Twitter, or any of those other things. You see, I’m a 19th century man, a blacksmith in my youth and a sawmill worker now – a natural single tasker. I use the internet to accomplish my purpose of initial research into a subject, then I return to books to take it further. I might watch 5 hours of TV annually, if that much. I do enjoy email as a way of keeping in touch with certain people in my life.
Like yourself, I have long been concerned about the dumbing down of Americans, and, despite long years of thought about it, I know of no panacea to alleviate it for the majority. All we can do to avoid the same fate – those of us who are cognizant of it – is to try to single-task our way to excellence at something. Focus comes from practice, and begins with eliminating distractions so as to facilitate thought. I play classical music softly to drown out background noise, and I do my best thinking early in the morning, before the roosters crow, when others are sleeping. It’s quite peaceful. Perhaps your other readers do similar things to facilitate their process ? I suspect they do. We Ents tend to be very much alike when it comes to our solitude.
I have always enjoyed your writing, but this article especially so. Please don’t ever stop sharing. I wish you peace, and I thank you for your words.
Sonia Simone says
Thank you for the lovely comment, my fellow Ent. 🙂
Terri Cruce says
Sonia, this article is so timely for me right now. I have a love/hate relationship with social media and its distractions, as well as the changes to the way we interact with others, overall. It is all too easy to get sucked into the time warp of Facebook, for example, and find you’ve wasted countless hours doing nothing worthwhile.
I have also wondered if the fact that so many seem to believe everything they read on Facebook, take to heart every meme they see, is damaging our collective psyches. I’ve made a conscious effort to place boundaries on my time online, though, like you, I’ve built some valuable relationships there. It definitely cuts both ways.
I don’t think any online experience is as rich as doing things in the “real world.” The trick is finding the right balance.
Sonia Simone says
Try the tip about having defined times for your social media — it helped me *hugely*.
I know what you mean about the folks who seem to swallow every meme without a second thought. It’s a little … scary.
Hugh Culver says
Wonderful read. It’s a bit ironic that we have to schedule our distraction time, but that is a brilliant first step!
Sonia Simone says
I know, it’s such a funny practice — but I’m loving it.
I once read your article how you deleted facebook page after evidence based metrics and almost took it as gospel. I think you might need to do an addendum on that article and mention that “social media is not for every industry”. In mine, we have flourished on social media, free traffic and good conversions. Even a single conversion from free traffic is worth celebrating for.
I read lots of copyblogger articles and love them.
Sonia Simone says
I bet you would get a lot out of the CopybloggerFM podcast that will run next week (one week from tomorrow) — Pamela W. and I talk a bit about how to approach the advice or models that you find from other businesses.
Shubha Khandekar says
Thanks for these insights. I thought I was old-fashioned! SM is the perfect instrument for trivialising anything under the sun, and it’s already an epidemic. I feel isolated and alienated from this world, but feel no desire to jump on to the bandwagon. I’d rather curl up in bed with a book!
Sonia Simone says
You have our official permission. 🙂 (Not that you needed it!)
Tad Chef says
In my opinion it’s always a matter of how, how much and what else. It’s like with almost anything else. Think sugar. How do you eat your sugar? How much sugar do you eat? What else do you eat/do?
I eat sugar as part of fruits I eat. I limit sugar consumption to a few sweets a day. I eat a lot of vegetables beside that and move a lot.
It’s similar with social media. I schedule social media time like any other task. I limit social media consumption to an hour or so usually. I use social media as a messaging tool (instead of mail for example). I write a lot and read books beside that. I limit my screen time in general. I don’t use a smartphone at all. I meditate twice daily.
Use social media but don’t get addicted and let it use you.
Sonia Simone says
Yep, I agree on all counts … (including the sugar thing).
Debbie Kane says
Probably one of the most common-sense and insightful articles I’ve read recently. Thank you — Copyblogger always gives us the good stuff. I appreciate it!
Sonia Simone says
So sweet, thank you Debbie. 🙂
Excellent article. Nowadays it’s so difficult to disconnect. We are always on, waiting for a new mail, a new comment… If I disconnect myself from the internet, I’m always anxious, afraid to be missing something.
I’m trying to discipline myself. I go to the gym, I read paper books, I draw, I turn off all my devices… It works for a few days, but quickly I come back to the same… I think it has to do a lot with your mindset. I’m still looking for new strategies that work for me. Thanks for sharing this helpful advices.
Sonia Simone says
Good luck! I’ve had the best luck focusing on relatively small habits and then building on that.
You might try one of the focus apps, there are a lot of them, that block the distracting sites for certain periods every day. That way you’re not relying on limited will power to reach your goals.
Paige Gilbert says
It’s no coincidence that I decided to observe Lent this year by significantly decreasing my use of social media, and this article published today. I believe in divine intervention! I feel like social media has become a distraction, both personally and professionally for myself and it’s time to re-wire my brain and how I use social media. I love this line you wrote: “We can control what we do, how we connect, what we choose to adopt or not. But the world is the world.” Social media has its place, but we all have a choice about how we spend our time and the boundaries we set in the social sphere. Thank you for this article – I needed it today!
Sonia Simone says
You are most welcome, thanks for the nice comment. 🙂
Beth Carey says
It always comes back to moderation. Whether we are talking about eating, drinking, sex, or social media, we as a society need to find a balance. There were a lot of valid points in this article and I am most concerned about our youth today when it comes to NOT having balance.
I think our challenge is to help our adolescents today realize that the world doesn’t revolve around their phones. They need to look up and experience the world first hand. Better role-modeling from us adults sure would help … don’t you think?
Sonia Simone says
This is a thing I work on a lot with my 10-year-old, who is very passionate about technology. We talk a lot about habit balance in our house. 🙂
I am not a fan of Fox “news” but there’s one particular segment I watch when I can. It’s Watter’s World.
He asks, college students often, basic political and historical questions.
It amazes me the number of college students that do not know the name of the current Vice President of the U.S. or who the first President of the U.S. was.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. It gets worse.
The answers are Joe Biden as Vice and George Washington as the first President for those too busy on Social Media to know or bother to care.
However, in their defense these same people know that Aunt Sara drank too much at the party last night and actually did put a lampshade on her head. OMG.
Long live Donald Trump Sonia Simone. In a Democracy the people get the leadership they deserve and in this case that’s scary.
BTW did anybody catch Kanye West’s latest rant. Peace Out.
Sonia Simone says
I think this is the first time in the history of the universe that anyone has written the words “Long Live Donald Trump Sonia Simone” all together like that.
Hi Again Sonia Simone,
Pamela Wilson says
Barry, clearly you’re a man who knows how to wield a comma where it’s needed. 😉
Darren Thompson says
Having gone right back to basic’s in the blogging world i discovered you & the Copyblogger crew through some basic research.
What a great post, basic yet highly informative
It is easy to get sucked in to the Social Media circus ,yet for me i became aware of this & realised that these distractions are tools at our fingertips & should be viewed as such…….they are the machine…..WE are the operator.
The 10 suggestions you outlined flow nicely together, time structure,self awareness, self education…..all great points…..especially number 10
Don’t take for granted what you are told , try & find out for yourself…..i didn’t learn this until i was 40 year’s old….( 51 now )
A big thank you to you & the Copyblogger crew who i have studied intensely now for the past 6 weeks…..Bye for now
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