Are you weaned off your phone yet?

You read that right. And If you didn’t understand what it really meant, you will, in just a moment. Let’s play with our imaginations for a little bit. Just bring to your mind a time and a place when you have looked up and seen a bunch of people around you, all staring at their phones. Now in your imagination, go ahead, grab and take away someone’s phone while they are looking at it so intent fully….I’m sure you heard a yelling,  received an irritated look or incurred a cuss word in the process. That’s what I’m talking about. We walk around glued to our phones and we scream and cry like babies when it is taken away. I hope that alarms you.

I had a problem. I used my phone too much and too often. I would find myself distracted between tasks and seizing every small opportunity to check my phone. If I have posted something on Instagram, every little Instagram icon in my notification bar would excite me and so did every red badge in the Instagram inbox. And if there were no notifications, I’d wonder, “what went wrong with all the crazy groups that are there on my WhatsApp, How come no one has posted a thing?!”

Does this seem familiar to you?

I would outright call it to be a kind of an OCD. Let me explain why.

It is not an accident that Instagram and Facebook are so addictive. It’s not a random feeling that sometimes you feel compelled to look at your phone even when you know there are no notifications. All applications are designed with one very important goal in mind – Grabbing your attention. Here is a link to an article I wrote about 2 years ago describing the specifics of the science and concepts that have been specially designed to keep us glued to our phones.

In this post, I want to elaborate on one such concept and focus on the implications of overusing smartphones I’ve personally experienced and those we hardly realize.

The concept is called – ” Attention economy” Here is the definition for you.

Attention economy is a concept wherein human attention is considered a SCARCE COMMODITY and various principles are used to successfully gain, or rather grab human attention, some of which are:-

Immediacy: Priority access to the content and its immediate delivery.

Personalization: “tailor-made just for you”.

Accessibility: Wherever, whenever.

This is just one such example that has laid the foundation for the success of social media platforms. And if you look at these 3 principles, all 3 are principles have been identified in order to grab our attention and make it difficult to put down the phone. I remember the days where we had to wait patiently to be connected to the internet using dial-up connections, some days it would take so long to connect that you would eventually lose interest. This is in complete contrast with how it is today. The world is at your fingertips in the matter of Nanoseconds. The Immediacy of information makes it engaging and attractive.

Secondly, not many of us realize this immediately, but every post we like, share and comment on, the apps itselves are designed smartly to remember our personal preference and place several similar suggestions at our disposal, what do you think that results in? More of your time and attention and immediate gratification. This vicious cycle keeps re-playing itself every time we go online. And the needed solution to this vicious cycle is in the third and the last principle. That is, Accessibility.

Accessibility. Lighting fast internet speed makes it possible for you to satisfy the vicious effects the ‘attention – instant gratification cycle‘ creates by making the content available wherever and wherever. Can’t sleep? No problem, you can scroll Instagram until either you fall asleep or the morning arrives! And Btw, who needs friends and companions now? The tiny device is the most faithful and ever-reliable friend you can count on, isn’t it?

There are people who study techniques to harvest more and more of human attention and to make applications as attractive and as greatly gratifying as possible that you keep coming back for more. Take the feature of ‘Facebook likes’ for example. Do you know that it has been designed to give you that instant rush of dopamine in your brain when someone likes your post, and it is indeed so gratifying that you keep coming back for it. I highly recommend you read the post I linked up above if you wanna know how the Science and concept that are worked upon to harvest your attention, you will find that article interesting. But let’s move on to the implications. 

The Internet is making us dumb! It’s the truth.

By providing a continuous outflow of information without any “STOP” cues,  (have you ever reached the very bottom your IG feed ? ;)) the internet is turning us into mindless scrollers. We sit around staring at the screens and scroll robotically and that in turn is messing with our own cognitive abilities like creative thinking, our ability to imagine and most importantly our attention. Have you ever noticed yourself to be disinterested in reading or listening to content which would take longer than, maybe 2-3 minutes to finish? I have, it’s even more interesting that established media companies mention the “average read time” above an article to let us know how long it would take us to read it and if it is below 5 minutes, that makes us pretty happy. The reason why our attention span is getting shorter and shorter is because our brains are now so used to instant gratification and continuous inflow of information that we cannot hold our attention to something more than a minute or two. The image or any kind of content has to change every minute or two to retain our attention. No wonder reading a book seems far less interesting to us than watching movies. And that’s the same reason why you keep checking your phone and get distracted from other important tasks. Mindless scrolling is eventually causing us to lose the ability to think more clearly, to feel more deeply, to reason and to be creative. Philosophically speaking, we are turning into robots. If you are one of those people who has realized this has been happening to you, its time to get weaned off your phone.

Wow! What a great picture! I finally have something good to post on IG and FB!

Looking at other people’s near-perfect profiles has a way of making you want to do something that they do and makes your accomplishments seem less significant than theirs, even more so unless they are posted online. The very subheading of this section reflects this truth. The individual is not happy about the way they look or even about the picture as much as they are happy about posting it online. Somehow, if it’s not on our feed, it feels less significant and eventually you start doing things only so that you can put it out there for others to see and create an esteemed virtual, “social media presence” image for yourself. And it feels as if, if not on social media, you do not exist. This is actually extracting all motivation in us to pursue our talents. The only motivation remains is – “So that the people may see how well or how much I’m doing.” And guess what, if you aren’t getting as many likes as you’d want, you eventually lose interest. What profoundness and meaning are left there then in your talents if they are pursued only to put on a show for others and have nothing to do with your inner self or because you like to do it or for the community that can benefit from it, there is actually no real meaning left to it.

The Great Instagram Philosophers!

 I have already written about 1294 words and you have bourne with me till now. Allow me to elaborate on the one last point. The accessibility of the internet has helped get most people online and to share whatever they want to share. That’s true about “The Instagram based Philosophers” of our time. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are good and even genuine in trying to help others but most are not. In the Instagram culture,  there are things being put out there and being ingrained in our heads that are far from the truth and we are allowing our minds, our way of thinking and dealing with life to be shaped by them. These are philosophies and “quotes”  that exalt self over others, spread ego in place of love and teach us to live life for our own self than giving our lives for others. It is ever more necessary to be careful of what ideas are being planted in our heads and how they are shaping our outlooks and beliefs. It is important to “Learn through our conscience and not by our eyes alone” as Dr Ravi Zacharias put it. Think about what you read and accept what is good, not what is eloquent but false. There is so much more that I can write about this, but  I have decided to stop. I hope I was able to give you a gist of how social media is messing around with our brains and draining meaning from all we aspire to do. If you wish to follow up… the next post is going to be about what we ought to do instead of spending time online and its gonna be an interesting one. See you, next time.