The pandemic you’re unheard of: Passive Consumption

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I unlocked my phone and opened YouTube. Something grabbed my attention while my thumb moved involuntarily through the screen. “5 funny things you should never try”. While I was debating to open it, my obnoxious little thumb made the move. What supposed to be like a quick relaxation ended up being a binge for the next 2hou… phew all right… 6 stupid hours. We all felt this, right? If we had lined up our thumbs, put a gun to their foxy little brains and forced them to run 10 miles and do 500 push-ups, maybe by then they should have learnt some self-discipline. Damn you thumb!

For some of us it’s YouTube, it could be Snapchat or even the goddamn dialler (OK that wasn’t true). Ask yourself have you ever scrolled through your social media feeds and felt “Whoa, this video/ photo/ news made my day”. The odds of experiencing this “true” happiness is like 0.000000……(1 hour later)…..00001. That’s how many times they actually happen. Did you know Facebook and Reddit are siblings of Mr. Pusher? Twitter being a cousin to them. Instagram and Snapchat are niece and nephews. In a nutshell, Social media is big freakish family meant to screw us up (if we are not careful). Don’t believe me? They share the same traits: bite-sized, meaningless and seductive. But we fall for them every single time.

You don’t wanna be this guy. Believe me! Source: Pinterest

THE ATTENTION ECONOMY

Do you know what Mr. P wants from us?  Our money? Yeah, eventually. But what really clears the canal for money to flow in? It’s our attention they crave for. Time spent is directly proportional to money[mfn]YouTube earns money via Embedded advertisement and membership.YouTube Business Model | How Does YouTube Make Money?[/mfn]. How is it they retain our attention longer? 

1. ACCESSIBILITY

I bet that you probably wouldn’t have known train times back in 2007. Even if you wish to, it was a tedious process: a. Check in with the reservation counter at your station, b. Ask someone who might know (And the odds of  it is slim), c. Pay ₹10 in an internet center and check. But now, we pull out the devil from our pockets. The accessibility of technologies have become much easier. Too easy to the point of us getting succumbed to it. It’s like asking a drug addict to carry a pack of cocaine without taking a sniff.

2. THE INVENTION OF THE INFINITY

When Mr. P along with his tech-tycoons kicked “the END” out of their board, charts were off the roofs. They invented infinite scrolling, which led to more time spent (mindlessly), eventually more money. Infinite screens became the new norm. 

This is a grave issue because a. You become the type of content[mfn]James Clear Newsletter. Idea II. September 26[/mfn] you consume. Ever found a lot of suicidal news on TV? Nope? Why? A study conducted shows, when suicide is televised in a particular area, the area’s suicide rates went up[mfn]Phillips, D. P. (1974). The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect. American Sociological Review, 39(3), 340–354.[/mfn]. Not that you will become a serial killer if you watch something about it, but if you keep bingeing about psycho killers for an extended period, you become influenced by it significantly.

b. Your mind would become an asylum. Though these mindlessly consumed content helps you fill the void of boredom. It gives birth to depression, anxiety and loneliness.

It’s our atten… Hey, check out these dogs…

Life changing right??

DECLINE IN THE NATURE OF ENTERTAINMENT

Taking a long walk without our phones is much harder than watching the latest celebrity gossip. But is really that addictive?

Yep! We come back from work drained, and it feels impossible to put on your jogging shoes and to go for a run. Heck, it feels impossible to pull our goddamn pants down (What no?). It’s here technologies exploit our depleted states of energy. What do we do? We pull out our re-chargeable cocaine that floods you with dopamine. 

This is where the problem starts – Dopamine receptors are pretty much similar to muscles. The more you work on them, the better they want. One pushup doesn’t feel impossible even after a year. When you submerge your dopamine receptors with dopa-stuff they shatter. And the habit becomes a compulsion. You keep doing stuff that makes you a dickhead, but you just cannot stop.

Good entertainment must promote deeper thinking. The transaction is mutual. Entertainment gives you knowledge and you think about it. Passive consumption is lopsided[mfn]Excerpts from a Conversation with David Foster Wallace, Paragraph 2[/mfn]. You receive stimulation without nothing of your effort. Most entertainment is a form of soft-core porn granting you with instant gratification. And there is the whole new category called ASMR videos[mfn]There are nearly 5.2M ASMR videos,ASMR Videos[/mfn]primarily meant for this.

HOW SOCIAL MEDIA PROMOTES PASSIVE CONSUMPTION

Social media depends on two major factors for its seductiveness. The Drive for social approval and Intermittent positive feedback. Slot machines and Social media are very similar. Opening an app is the pull down of the slot machine. The time taken to open creates an uncertainty, and the reward is usually your notifications in their shiny red buttons, which creates dopamine[mfn]Check this video[/mfn]

It’s obvious that whenever someone comments, share or like, you receive a notification. But what do they have in common? They promote your social approval. To our Paleolithic brain, ignoring a newly arrived text is the same as ignoring a tribe member who is trying to attract your attention by the communal fire: a potentially dangerous social blunder [mfn]Digital minimalism, Chapter 1: Lopsided Arms Race, Page 29[/mfn]. It’s because of this we gawk at our phones when a new notification pops up looking for social acceptance.

More likes, more dopamine. Image Source

And with digital morphines in our pockets all the time, we do this constantly. You wake up, look up social media, refresh yourself, get ready to work, use social media during breakfast, Work, social media during lunch, Work, social media during … I could go on. This break between constant usage leads to intermittent positive feedback. In other perspective, you don’t receive your notifications all at once. They come from time to time, providing highs intermittently. This also creates a false sense of connectedness inhibiting us from enjoying any higher level of human experience.

The most important of all, we lose solitude. A subjective state of mind which is free from input from other minds and plays an important factor in productivity, peace and happiness.

“Man’s inability to sit alone in a room is root cause of all his problems

Blaise Pascal

If attention is not managed mindfully, it gets exploited. Passive consumption turns creative, enthusiastic, happy individuals into depressive, lonely and narcissistic maniacs. How do I know? Because I used to be a freakin’ one. 

So how are we supposed to combat this? Abstinence? Quitting?

THE SOLUTION

Not much of a Buddha myself, I preferred quitting social media to abstinence. I didn’t make a long lasting change despite its great benefits. I found contacting people even harder, creating deep meaningful relationships was out of the ballpark, ended turning to other forms of passive consumption and eventually went down a different path that led to the same ditch.

But there is a far more subtle solution. This doesn’t make it any easier, but it really solves the problem. The solution is (cue drumroll) Digital minimalism. A philosophy of technology where you use online time on some activities that strongly support your values and miss out of everything else.

To curb an unhealthy diet one doesn’t stop eating but becomes mindful of one eats. Mindful technology usage is one way out.

DFW on entertainment

Do a 30-day detox. This detox isn’t mindless abstinent, but time to create better habits. For the next 30 days take a break from optional technologies (not everything – but things that you feel addicted to). After intensive scrutiny, it allows you to include a tech back into your life, which relies on the question,

“Does this piece of tech support the value I strongly believe in?”

The detox and the following steps don’t mean shit if you don’t work on high-quality leisure. It’s during this detox you create better habits say taking up an art class online, learning yoga, socializing, exercising, going out for play every evening, taking long walks, reading books , playing board games with your friends and family, stuff that provides you value. Think about how you replace the mindless hours of passive entertainment with engaging activities and work on it. With high-quality leisure built in, it’s time to kick social media right on its balls. It involves three steps (No, not the ball kicking part…)

THE SCRUTINY

1. BE SPECIFIC IN YOUR CHOICES

For instance, you value deep meaningful relationships and believe Instagram will do the job. Now ask yourself, Is this the best way I could I accomplish this without losing my attention? Probably it wouldn’t. You have plenty of personal messaging softwares to do it. Even better, a phone call or a cup of coffee in-person. The requirement of a technology must because it’s critical and not because it’s convenient.

2.  OPTIMIZE YOUR CHOICES

(Hypothetically)Assume all your friends never have heard of calls and only use Instagram to connect. And you go with the same. Now, optimize it. Think about all those things that take you away from your value and cut them off ruthlessly. A great suggestion would be unfollow people and hashtags that you don’t derive any value from, not because they are bad but because you have to preserve your limited attention. 

3. BEING INTENTIONAL

How are you going to use this piece of tech to connect with people? If you’ll use Instagram, then for what purposes? Will you limit to 1 hour of social media a day or do you check it out on specific times? For what purpose are you going to use that tech? Business, Friendships? Be specific about it.[mfn]Digital Minimalism: Principles, Page 38[/mfn]

Apply this filter system for any technology you wish to add back to your life.

BUT WHAT ABOUT TIMES OF QUARANTINE?

It’s obvious that screen time is quadrupling during quarantine. But how are we going to deal with quarantine with no way to take long walks? The odds of us getting succumbed to technology is very high. Here’s a great article about it. In a nutshell, it suggests you to plan your day, exercise, connect with people and get some sunlight. 

Being mindful about technology in times of quarantine could sound tricky but ensure that you work on high quality leisure, get 7-8 hours of sleep, hydrate yourself well, exercise, get some sunlight, socialize both with your family and friends(digitally)

And if you’re a parent and worried about your child’s screen time, find out,

1. Are they reading?

2. Are they doing enough exercise(Running around, Playing)?

3. Are they working on creative projects?

If the answer is yes to all of them, don’t restrict their screen time. It’s more likely that they would spend it intentionally connecting with their friends just like you do. If they don’t, spend time with them. Work on a parent – child creative project together, read a book together.

All of this doesn’t mean that social media and entertainment is inherently bad. It’s the way we use them is all that matters.

Humans are poor creatures with follow through and I am one of them. I am using this platform and consider all you guys as my accountability buddies. I am taking a break from optional technologies for the next month. I will let you know the results in my newsletter. Go check it out, if you haven’t!. Here’s the link.

Time to remove your blindfolds off! Image Source

Before we reach our 40s, looking back wondering ”WTF have I done with my life?”. It would better right now to take control of what’s rightfully ours: time and attention, using them in the best way possible.

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FURTHER RESOURCES

1.    Matt D’avella’s digital minimalism

2.    Natheniel drew’s beginner’s guide to digital minimalism

3. The Attention Diet by Mark Manson

FOOTNOTES

  1. YouTube earns money via Embedded advertisement and membership.YouTube Business Model | How Does YouTube Make Money?
  2. James Clear Newsletter. Idea II. September 26
  3. Phillips, D. P. (1974). The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect. American Sociological Review, 39(3), 340–354
  4. Excerpts from a Conversation with David Foster Wallace, Paragraph 2
  5. There are nearly 5.2M ASMR videos,ASMR Videos
  6. Check this video
  7. Digital minimalism, Chapter 1: Lopsided Arms Race, Page 29
  8. Digital Minimalism: Principles, Page 38

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