There is a famous line in the 1999 cult classic Fight Club
The things you own end up owning you.Chuck Palahniuk
And I’m reminded of it every time I look at my phone. Now, it is one of the greatest tools we have ever created. At any point in time, I am connected to a vast network of human knowledge. I have the potential to reach out to almost anyone in the world or even to reach a large number of people at once. It is an incredibly useful tool.
But instead, most of the time I am held hostage by it. I pick up my phone up to 150 times a day. That’s an incredible amount of time. I’m a bit better, over the years I have slowed down my use of Twitter, Facebook…Instagram I’ve mostly hated for a long time, so I generally use that once a week. My attention now is consumed mostly by WhatsApp, I spend a lot of time chatting to my friends.
My eyes are almost always glued to my screen, and I’m not the only one, I look around and everyone is pressing, tapping or swiping. This is nothing new, many have been wailing about this phenomenon, the way technology hijacks our attention and exploits our evolutionary weaknesses and needs. We are hit with so many things every minute, it is much harder for us to sustain our attention on anything. Distraction is only a swipe and a tap away and we are forever fiending for a fix.
We think we use our phones, but really, they use us. They follow us, they stalk us, they market to us. All these apps and social networks take our attention, condition our behavior, generate and map out our data, they eventually end up knowing more about us than we do about ourselves. As Yuval Noah Harari highlights in his book ’21 Lessons for the 21stCentury’, we are now the ones being hacked by big corporates and technologies.
Before, we hacked technologies and networks, now humans are the ones being hacked. These technologies and algorithms understand us better and better, from our location, to our searches, to our health tracking data, it is becoming easier and easier to nudge us in directions without our conscious knowledge. In a world evolving faster and faster, we are increasingly vulnerable.
I was listening to a Gary Vee interview a few weeks back, and someone asked him who the best people in the social media game were, who was doing the marketing right. And for about 30 seconds, he couldn’t come up with one name, and he said the reason he could not actually point to anyone was because he actually consumes no one. Think about that, one of the biggest names right now in the world of entrepreneurship, famous for the sheer volume of content he puts out (100 pieces per day), and his insistence on the underpriced nature of most social platforms, does not consume social media. Mind blown.
What does he consume? He consumes the comment section of his content, he engages with his people and learns what they are thinking and feeling, or he consumes the comment sections of the biggest things in the world trying to place a finger on the pulse of the current zeitgeist.
That is a massive and powerful mental shift. And something I heard echoed again in The Order of Man podcast with Tyler Harris yesterday. Producers are usually too busy producing to consume content mindlessly. And that is something you can do to shift the control back to yourself. These tools are massively powerful. You have access to a potential audience, you have access to knowledge, you can create and build almost anything by reading the books, watching the tutorials, listening to the podcasts, it is an incredible time to be alive, if you actually take advantage of it. Become a producer, be active, build something, give value, make content, do things, and you will have less toleration for random consumption.
I have seen it happen in my life. I mentioned earlier how much I reach for my phone, I know people who reach for their phones even more. I’ve noticed my time reduce drastically on social media over the years the more I follow my path, the more I make content, the more I learn and execute around my business. The more I learn and create, the more I want to learn and create, and the less time or inclination I have to be swallowed up in the machine.
The sentiments have been echoed by many writers and thinkers. Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work’ advocates the ability to turn everything off and focus deeply on solving a meaningful problem. I wrote a post almost a year ago on why ‘Airplane Mode’ is one of the greatest productivity hacks.
In addition to this, you can practice more mindfulness. Don’t touch your phone for the first hour after you wake up. Do something else, read, meditate, exercise, eat, or just stare at the ceiling, you will be bored to tears, but you won’t die. Wean yourself off the addiction to your phone and reclaim your power and your attention. Then deploy it towards that which is truly important to you. It will transform your life.
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A lovely article and a crucial one because phone addiction is really rampant and a great time waster. Also, I love your proffered solution; “become a producer, be active, build something, give value, make content, do things, and you will have less toleration for random consumption”.
Nice one Oto.
Ah! This has been my issue for weeks now! We are prisoners of our phones! I deleted Instagram and Facebook off my devices on New Year’s Eve and the first week was hard because I keep picking up my phone wanting to scroll through Instagram then I realised I have almost no use for my phone without social media. It’s merely just a camera and a phone. I even tried to quit WhatsApp but that only lasted a few days because everybody complained that I’m “unreachable and anti social”… But i just thought to myself how did we communicate before smart phones?! Why are we so reliant on instant messaging? . Pick up the phone and call me! At some point I just wanted to throw my phone away because I hate how I’m constantly accessible to everyone at any time.
Now that I have no social apps I am: 1- saving data. 2- I am not bombarded with tons of unnecessary information like what food people are Instagraming at whatever restaurant for breakfast with the squad … It really bothers me that I know so much about people I don’t even know! 3- I’m far more present and focused on my daily tasks. 4- suddenly i feel a lot less stress and social pressure to be posting up “living my best life” according to virtual norms because I’m actually living my life, offline. Less anxiety and comparison with my peers. 5- my time management has improved because I’m not constantly glued to my screen. 6- I don’t feel urged to update a status or post a story because everybody else is updating something. Sometimes you end up posting nonsense or private personal things just because Facebook wants to know “what’s on your mind/where you are /what you’re doing /how you’re feeling and who with”.
I’ve now replaced Instagram and Facebook with other apps like Ted Talks, Linked In, scrabble, Netflix, more YouTube and I’m reading up on random topics and blogs that interest me, watching TV… After feeling like a hostage to social media for a long while i remembered I have the option to choose the content I subscribe to and the option to ‘LOG OUT’! It is your responsibility to filter and carefully select not only the content you view but the quantity and quality of it too. “