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How to solve attention pollution and cure your love/hate relationship with your smartphone

This morning in Pai Thailand, I went to a new hotel. It was 100 Thai Baht — about USD $3 — more expensive, but it has aircon, a desk, and has a better location. I packed all my stuff and half an hour later I was in my room and opened my laptop — time for work! But unfortunately, I spend the first hour scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. An hour later I get mad with myself. Fuck! I want to be working, but what am I doing again?! It puts me in a bad mood, and I need loads of willpower to finally start working. Sounds familiar? For me this is a regular problem. It happens to me every day. Sometimes I get sucked up in something for a few minutes, but sometimes it can be hours. In the past, I even found myself distracted for whole days, doing nothing else than watching TV, playing videogames, scrolling through news and social media, watching random YouTube videos, and other unproductive things. It made me feel terrible but I still did it.

A brief history about human civilization

You might never think about this, but we are not made for smartphones. Neither are we made for TV, internet, and computers. We’ve been around for about 200.000 years, and all these things only exist for about 100 years — a mere 0,05% of that timespan. So yeah, we still are quite new to these concepts, yet they took a huge part of our lives.

Attention pollution

I love smartphones. I really do. But I also hate them because my smartphone distracts me all the time. It’s a love/hate relationship. Last week, Mark Manson — one of my favorite writers I just discovered — wrote in his blog about why Smartphones are the new cigarettes. And I totally agree with him. The conclusion of the article is that we are all prey to attention pollution. It is the same as smoking cigarettes. For people that smoke or have smoked, when someone around you starts smoking a cigarette, you want one too. Right? Even if you are trying to stop or already stopped for a long time. It is the mammalian brain that finds it appropriate to do what others do around you if you ever found it appropriate, even if this is contradictory to your long-term goals. You get sad when others cry, you become happy when others party, and you work when others work. It’s also often referred to as peer pressure.

I believe that it’s possible to get rid of attention pollution. However, you can’t get rid of something you don’t see, so first we have to identify what attention pollution is.

I thought about this for a long time, and I think I have it. Attention pollution are all the things that your mind thinks about that make you change what you are doing, or make you less productive. These things are often close around you. If you have this problem at your location then you’re just in the wrong environment for being productive. Go somewhere else man…

Internet goes anywhere and anytime. You don’t

However, with technology nowadays, the problem is on an entirely new level. A hundred years ago, all distractions were here and now. There was no digital communication. But with smartphones, distractions are everywhere and anytime! Because of internet, your distractions can now be in the future, past, or far away. I call it internet attention deficit disorder (IADD). Most tech-savvy people have it.

And I think this is an entirely new order of magnitude of a problem. I thought about this a lot, and I strongly believe now, that future is only useful when it gives you a drive to do something , now, here. Past is only useful when you learn from it to change what you do now, here. People in other places are only useful when they give you drive to do something, now, here. But in the end, all that matters is what you do, now, here. Because our minds wander all the time, and this only costs time and makes us unproductive most of the time. It distracts us.

In the end, does it change what you do if you read about a friend on Facebook that went to a festival last night? Do you really — I mean really — care about that random guy that fell down because he was dancing drunk on the roof? Does it help you when seeing pictures of the Himalayas when you’re in the rainy Netherlands? No. You don’t. These are all mere distractions. Attention pollution. You shouldn’t care because it doesn’t have any effect on you apart from a short emotional trigger. Internet makes you think you can be anywhere anytime, but this is not real. You’re still right now, right here.

And with technology of the past century, it became easier than ever to get distracted.

Do you follow me?

If not, read again. But if you do, then you’ve just identified attention pollution of the internet. If you keep thinking about it, you will be able to detect when it happens to you, and you can react accordingly. It’s a lot easier now!

I hope this will help you to start loving your smartphone again, and only use it for things it’s good for. Not things you hate it for!

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