It seems as though we are living in a world in which people are more likely to forget their given names than leave their houses without their beloved smart phones. Next to our vital organs, our smart phones can unequivocally be listed as one of the most essential things that modern humans cannot seem to live without, and to a degree, rightly so. Practically speaking, I for instance, am what you might call directionally challenged, cannot tell the east from the west and as a result I cannot be trusted with reaching any of my destinations, yes that also includes my neighbor’s house, without my GPS — upon which I am hopelessly dependent. One time I was driving back home after running some errands when suddenly my GPS stopped giving me the directions that I so desperately needed. I pulled my car over to see what was happening and realized that I was in fact running out of internet data. Had my sister not come to my rescue by going online and topped off my data, my only plausible option would have been to park my car and call Uber. There was no way that I would have been able to make it home without Siri’s guidance — our modern-day virtual companion with whom some of us probably spend more time than our actual friends.
However, these smart gadgets also have a much sinister and yet an intoxicating side. They seem to possess such an alluring feature that even those who are likely to be unenchanted by technology have surrendered to their charm. At this point, it’s undeniable that they are a double-edged sword especially if we choose to populate them by all sorts of social media apps that seem to multiply by the minute. In this day and age, if there was one villain that should be accounted for the deterioration of our sustained attention and focus, the dismantling of our social fabric, and our decreased tolerance to respectfully engage with ideas with which we disagree, it’s social media. Although debatable among researchers, the rise of social medias has also been correlated with the creation of political echo chambers, increased violence, and lack of trust in institutions.
Analogous to a weight scale, we hop on to our social medias to measure and determine our self-worth compared to everybody else, yes everybody else, no person is off limits except for those rare breeds who made a conscious choice to not be part of the virtual world. The likes, comments, retweets, and shares are the metrics upon which we rely to establish where we stand. The good news is, social medias by their very nature do not make us wait, the verdict of our status unfolds in a second. The bad news is we are never satiated. Nothing ever feels good enough. No sooner had we experienced elation about our 200 likes than we encountered another person with a 9K likes. Dare to scroll down a bit further? You will likely see another person who somehow managed to amass hundreds of thousands of followers while still being 20 years younger than you are, making you feel like your role on this earth is to simply sit on the sidelines and be a spectator of other people’s curated and carefully edited lives. Their lives look so smooth, eventful, and well-put-together, they might as well be from a different planet or by some miracles have managed to successfully escape the heart breaks, setbacks, and illnesses that befall the rest of us. One negative comment from one random person is enough to decimate the dopamine surge you might have had experienced from the ten positive validations. We humans by nature are wired to gravitate toward the negative. The emotional highs and lows and rise and falls that we experience on a moment-to-moment basis are no different than being trapped on a turbulent airplane — ultimately leaving us depleted to be fully present to the people around us.
Let’s turn our focus for a while to our attention span both as an individual and as a collective unit. Human’s ability to pay attention and stay focused is one of our greatest assets. If you think about it, any worthwhile undertaking whether it is learning, creating or problem solving necessitate the use of our sustained attention. I don’t know about you but if I am being honest, my ability to concentrate on a singular task for a considerable amount of time has significantly declined over the past decade. As a child and an adolescent, I remember getting lost in a book for hours. Now, it’s almost impossible to focus on one thing even for an hour without having to fight the urge to check emails or get distracted by text messages. In an effort to reclaim my attention, I decided a while ago to remove almost all my social media apps except for the two that I use to connect with family members. Johann Hari, author of the book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply argued modern society is “living in an attention crisis.” This is even more infuriating when you hear from the mouth of the social media inventors about their hesitation in letting their own children join the global village while they are swelling their back accounts by selling our attention. Take a moment and ask yourself — How would you rate your attention span now compared to in the past? If you believe that it’s not as sharp as it used to be, how has it been costing you and what can you do to redeem it?