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On The Attention Economy and How It's Affecting Your Thoughts and Behavior

You don't have to be a fan of The Center for Humane Technology, Renee Diresta, or Shoshana Zuboff, and you don't have to have watched The Social Dilemma to feel the reality of human downgrading. You experience the fracturing of your attention; the overwhelm is palpable. The pandemic, the chaos, the identity politics, the chilling, the canceling, the denial of our national history of anti-blackness, the inability to agree that there are things we know to be true. Facts, it seems, can be different from person to person. Newsfeeds are customized to give us whatever will keep us scrolling and engaged.

We are about a decade into an experiment, birthed by the Internet, that has gradually resulted in the erosion of our social fabric. And that has been made possible only because each of our individual brains has slowly been repurposed by technology. Our precious brains no longer serve us as individuals, and they have made us wary of several of the hallmarks of Homo sapiens sapiens. We know, and we know that we know, but what we know has become riddled with disinformation. And we are social animals, yet we are wary of others like never before, and often on a visceral level.

Where there was once the capacity for empathy, there is now hyper-vigilance, distrust, and fear of others who aren't on "our team."

Where we once had deep, lengthy conversations on the phone, we now avoid real-time voices in favor of texting with increasing brevity, often to the point of conversing through emojis.

Where we were once capable of civilized debate with neighbors and friends, we are now hunkering down with our factions, in our virtual echo chambers.

So what can we do about this fragile state we find ourselves in?

4 Habits for Reclaiming Your Brain

1. Dramatically decrease your social media use.

How we come to know what we (think we) know is important. You have to put a reasonable amount of effort in figuring out what's going on these days. And if you're getting your news from your social media feeds and not directly from reputable news outlets, that's a problem. Do NOT believe what you see and read without vetting it. If you want a good example of how social media has been used to warp our realities and create panic in the US all the way from Russia, this is most instructive and fascinating, as is the HBO documentary about the Internet Research Agency, Agents of Chaos.

2. Use social media for news by actual journalists and for, believe it or not, cat videos and anything else that makes you smile. Here's the thing, though, don't like or share, unless you want a feed full of cat videos. If you have an addiction to being on social media, at least flip the reason you're there. Go there to smile and to connect with actual people you know. You know they are real people and you have real conversations with them. They are the friends you would see if you could. Studies show that social media use is correlated with unhappiness, with the degradation of well-being. Maybe we can turn that around by using it for joy and connection rather than to spread social contagion and vitriol.

3. Pause before you go onto social media, pause before you like or otherwise react to anything, and pause before you share anything. Just . . . pause. Ask yourself, "Who am I saying I am when I share this?" "What am I feeling inside when I reach for my phone to go to Twitter or wherever?" And when you get to your feed, notice your feelings. When you read something you want to react to or share, notice how you are feeling. What is the function of your reaction or share? What makes you do it? What's it going to get you? What's it going to say about you? Are you trying to change someone's mind with your action? You have heard that facts don't change people's minds, right?

4. Mindfulness. Learning how to pay attention to your moment-to-moment experience has many benefits. For me, the resulting self-awareness positions me so that the willpower and discipline I would need in order to alter my behavior is no longer necessary. Mindfulness shows you the inner workings of your own thoughts, sensations, and emotions, and it fast tracks you to hacking your own brain and habits, enabling you to reclaim your brain. And when you reclaim your brain, your behavior, intentions, capacity for handling uncertainty, and inner resources all benefit. Your relationships benefit. Your effectiveness benefits. You are better able to support the causes you care about.

If you're interested in learning more, I'll be speaking about this topic at a virtual event offered by the Financial Transitionist Institute on November 5, from 12pm-2pm, EST. If you want to learn more, go here. (It's open to all professionals--not just those in financial services.) And if are interested in learning more about mindfulness, email me!


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