The reason you have a hard time focusing on your planned tasks is that the Internet is highly addictive. It can literally provide you anything. Anything that you can imagine and that you want to see – is available through the Web. Being able to access anything at any time is amazing. However, when I keep thinking about the Web and the future I also like to ponder about the past and how I grew up with the Internet. For me, as a 90’s kid, I grew up in the perfect time to still be aware of the trouble that the Web caused in the past.
The time when you needed to decide whether you go online or not, because if you’re online nobody could call you and if you were on the phone talking to your first crush nobody could go online. So it naturally was a highly intentional usage. People in chatrooms were polite most of the times, even the creepy old men because you were part of some new thing that was going to change the world. Back then it felt like it was a tool you used to solve a problem you have. For me, problems were easy to solve. Most of the time I was just googling cheat codes for random single player games and I wrote down the codes on some piece of paper and continued with my day.
For me, the Internet is the greatest Invention in the history of mankind. Although this Invention comes with a downside that looked like its an upside, which is that we are permanently connected through our phones. Maybe you can relate to the situation that when your phone wakes you up, which is totally normal today, that you’re fighting against the snooze button. And when you decide to finally turn off the alarm, you got your phone in both of your hands right in front of you, holding it tight so it doesn’t fall onto your face. I think it is crazy that we check e-mails, messages, news, tweets, likes and so on before we even get up, had breakfast, brushed our teeth or showered.
Sometimes I feel like I am turning into this grumpy old grandpa that hates technology and thinks it was all better in the past, but that’s wrong. I just discover that it gets significantly harder to read books, listening to an album or just trying to learn a new skill that doesn’t involve a screen. Halfway through you just give up and go back to checking Instagram over and over again for no good reason.
I believe that the phones and the internet have messed with your human attention span. It feels like we always expect instant gratification and get more and more impatient. It goes so far that we get rude to the people around us. I experienced this multiple times now in stores I went to buy something. People being rude to the cashier, saying that they should hurry up because the Q is too long. Not caring about other humans in the store and not even saying sorry or anything when bumping into someone. Just living in their own world thinking they are alone on this pale blue dot.
It feels like this all comes together again even on small tasks like when a book gets boring or playing an instrument is tough, or we get stuck alone with our own thoughts, we switch to do something uninspiring online, rather than fighting through that problem and facing difficulties in the real world. I really can’t stress it enough, how important it is to downsize your online time. Resisting to check up every Instagram Story, looking up every message you receive. If it’s super important people will call you. If something significantly important is going on in the world. The News will automatically arrive to you.
If you try to radically cut your online time, things will get weird in the beginning, especially because, we have so many routines where we just check our phones. Waiting for the train – checking the phone. Waiting for someone – checking our phone. Having breakfast – checking our phone. Luckily your brain is able to adapt to these routines and form new ones. It will learn sooner rather than later that it’s not wifi o’clock.
And soon enough concentrating on tasks will get easier, you have a higher chance to get into a state of flow and all that because you learned that you can’t just escape into the fuzzy and warm worlds of the internet. The biggest take away though might be that you realize how much time you wasted. You will have a lot of free time that you can spend with just thinking about your life and your plans in this one life you have, just because you didn’t go for that next cat video, that next post, that next online debate, just out of the fear of being bored.
The Internet is a big and lovely binary cake. It made everything faster, like messaging, where people get angry when you don’t answer immediately. I don’t want to know how much trouble these two blue arrows in whats app or the „seen“ tag after you read a message have caused. The power of design, right? This instantaneous transfer of information caused us to be immediately bored with anything that doesn’t hook us in the first ten seconds.
So, please try it for a month or a week, to use the internet intentionally as a tool, rather than a source of constant gratification. If you’re working from home or your job is it to be online you can use website blocking tools like „block site“, „stay focused“ or „uBlockOrigin“. Those are simple Google Chrome Add Ons that are easy to set up. Please do me a favor and pursue something that you always wanted to do. Or finish that one project that’s lying around since months. Just do it now, instead of checking everyone’s new lunch photo or what certain influencers have been posting today.
You do you. And to be honest, it’s a worrying thing that a lot of people I know can’t sit through a movie without playing candy crush or checking their Instagram. This problem isn’t going away as companies and people get better at hi-jacking the reward center of our brain.
In the same way, we wash our hands after using the toilet, we might start one-day teaching digital hygiene, where we all learn to keep our concentration on one thing at a time, rather than running 10,000 tabs all at once. Attention is a finite resource we have – and it’s silly to spend that resource on things that temporarily stop us from being bored – but don’t really provide any mental advancement.