The Curse of your Phone

Social media and focus

For a long time, I didn’t have a social media account, I didn’t use Facebook nor Instagram nor Twitter. When my friends saw the benefits of being on social media, I didn’t see any, I didn’t see the point of taking pictures of your food and sharing that online.

Last year, I made the jump. I created my Facebook and then my Instagram account. I did that because I realized that one of the reasons I was not on social media was because I was afraid of other people’s judgment. Is my life cool enough compared to others? Will people approve of my photos (by liking my posts)? At first, I was completely stifled by the platform, timidly posting photos, but then I kind of got used to it and became a typical regular user.

There are a lot of different axes we can dissect the impact of social media. However, in this post, I want to discuss one in particular: your ability to focus. So now one-year in social media made me realize that my ability to focus for interrupted periods of time suffered. When I’m working, I realized that at the first glimpse of boredom, my hand in a Pavlovian way reaches for my phone systematically. Did somebody message me? Followed my account? Liked my content? Shared a story? Social media, I realize made me weak in face of boredom. Instead of embracing the natural and necessary moments of boredom that arise in hard work, it made me avoid them and scatter my focus. It made my monkey mind even more chaotic.

Regaining your focus

After this realization, I needed to claim back my ability to concentrate deeply. Because it became a habit to constantly check social media. I had to break that pattern. One way I found to do that is to baby-step my way into it. If before, I was able to focus for one-hour non-stop. Now I will first set the timer for let’s say 20 minutes, and focus without any distractions for that time. If during the 20 minutes, I checked my phone for notifications, I will not count it as a success. After each session, I will take a 5 to 10 minutes break and restart. After successfully completed several sessions of a fixed duration, I would then gradually increase the duration of the sessions.

The duration of the sessions is also highly dependent on your energy level. In times of the day when I will more energized, I would usually stretch myself into longer sessions and inversely when I felt that my energy was low. The confidence of successfully completing consecutive sessions tend to give me the “feeling productive” dopamine that make me push myself further in the hard work at hand.

Controlling technology

Technology is both a blessing and a curse. In the book Flash Boys, I remember reading a passage about Russian coders and why they were the best in Wall Street in the 2000’s. Most of them learned coding through punched cards. Because the process was very long and tedious, they had to think very thoroughly before making the card. i.e. what would be to write a line of code nowadays. And precisely because the technology was so scarce, they had to be excellent in the coding process. Nowadays, technology is insanely abundant. Each one of us has access to previously unimaginable computing power, and because it is so readily available, most of us do not care about it. Imagine, we had to pay $10,000 to use a computer for an hour, how much more attention will we pay? How much more efficient will we be in that hour? I will leave you with a quote from Cal Newport in his latest book Digital Minimalism.

The key to living well in a high tech world is to spend much less time using technology.

Cal Newport