The idea of digital minimalism is not to reduce how much time you spend online, but rather to focus on what really matters, and ignore all the rest (inevitably, this will reduce less useful time spent online). Holiday season might be just the best time to do that, as you have far less social pressure to catch up with all.
So here are my five ways to be a digital minimalist:
1. Don’t carry devices with you at all times. Stop making yourself constantly available. But do make sure people know in advance when you are available (relationship management).
Why: as one famous entrepreneur says, mobile phones are a way for other people to impose their agenda on you. And now in addition to other people, it’s bots and internet companies that do the same, and this will only increase. Either you are in charge of your time, or your device is. If you have it around with you at all times, it’s likely the second option.
2. Accept the idea that someone will be unhappy and you may lose some opportunities… but what you gain instead, is an increased focused and more energy in your brain for a few things that matter.
A client, a busy business woman, finally allowed to convince her to unplug for 48 hours, and was relieved to discover that the business kept running as it should, the team was able to cope with problems on its own. Now she is determined to make it a regular practice.
Why: our attention is a limited resource. If we are paying attention to multiple things, we are taking away attention from what is truly important. We have to start making choices.
3. Before you look at your devices in the morning, write down on a piece of paper 2-3 things that will make a true difference if you do them. Stick the note to your monitor. Now switch your computer and start by focusing on what will make the most difference, not by checking everything else.
Why: decision-making requires lots of attention, and self-control consumes lots of brain energy. When we are distracted and/or presented with exciting opportunities internet offers us all the time, we cannot take good decisions, less so control ourselves all the time.
4. Review, how many social media platforms you use
Only keep those you truly enjoy using, or that you need for work. To determine it, try not logging into one for one week. Did work or relationships suffer? If nothing changed, you can probably easily live without it. Or log into it a couple of times per month.
Why: Just managing all of them requires lots of attention to you. Every notification you receive schedules a little time in your brain to act upon it (check, reply, like etc). It might be small, but they accumulate quickly.
5. Don’t open multiple tabs at once
One task, 1-2 tabs max. When done, take a break and switch to a different task.
Why: I wrote multiple times that humans are not good at multitasking (proven by experiments in Stanford and other places). When we do that, we lose up to 40% of our productive time.
Bonus point: Revise all your paid online subscriptions
It’s tiring, but find a couple of hours to make a list of all online services you use (Amazon, eBay, Netflix, Coursera etc) and revise if you have any ongoing subscriptions that you don’t use. One client discovered he could save up to 300 pounds per month when he finally got down to cancel all subscriptions he was not using.
PS If you want more tips, check out Homo Distractus book, or How to be a digital minimalist webinar
I’ve written a book. It took me a year and a half, countless tea cups, and a couple of pair of trousers that worn off because of long sitting, but is was finally there. Now the question was: how do I let people know about it?
The tricky part was that Homo Distractus (this is what the book was called) was about unplugging. It explained how we have all unnecessarily became obsessed with checking our gadgets and advocated for keeping our devices under control. I also had a zero marketing budget.
I am a former digital marketer and I know a lot about selling products online. But wouldn’t it be weird to launch my book crowdfunding campaign on unplugging by posting about it on Facebook? In Homo Distractus, I oppose the pressure that creative people have to be ‘always on’ and maintain a constant presence on social media. But I could I do differently with my own book?
I wanted to prove that ‘online’ is not the only way to attract attention. So I had to look for alternative ways.
Do what you can do best
The first, most obvious one, was doing more live talks on the topic. I love public speaking and am reasonably good at it (I did a TEDx talk). So I scheduled as many talks as I could fit in 5 weeks of the campaign. It was the first time I decided to charge for them, explaining all funds will go to support my book. Surprisingly, all my talks sold out, and quite a few people attending the talks ordered the book.
What I learned: 1. Focus on what you do best, and rely on your partners to do the rest (in this case, online promotion). 2. There’s already lots of free stuff out there. Start charging, it creates value in the eyes of attendees.
A website that forces you to unplug
The second way to promote the book offline came out of a pure chance. I came across an article about a guy who created a website that would only show its content if you disable internet. I wrote him on Twitter, asking whether he’d be interested in collaborating. I didn’t expect any answer, but really liked the concept.
To my surprise, Chris Bolin (this was his name) was fast to reply, and he liked the idea… and so in a few days we’ve put up homodistractus.com, the first website that forces you to unplug. We wanted to re-create the experience of being focused and attentive even when you are connected. So the website is designed the way that it only shows you content if you disable your wifi. It explains, how ‘always on’ makes us distracted and stupid. When you reconnect again, it redirects you to the crowdfunding page. We’ve had quite a few backers coming from this website.
What I’ve learned: 1. Always take a chance, even if you think it’s minimal. 2. Rather than avoiding something, think how you can build on top of it (in my case, how to improve online experience, not get rid of it).
Making a fool out of myself
Towards the end of the campaign, donations started slowing down (which usually happens), so I needed to find a way to boost them. I ordered stickers that said ‘Your time is limited’ and ‘This device is just a tool’ that you could put on your devices to remind yourself to browse mindfully. They also included links to homodistractus.com.
Then I and my friend borrowed colour pens and paper from her 5-year old daughter (thank you, Anna and Cecilia!) and spent the whole morning drawing a poster. One side of it said ‘1/3 of us would rather give up sex than a smartphone’ (quote from a BCG study), and the other ‘Do you manage your device, or does it manage you?’
Using girl’s umbrella as a holder, I went with this amateur into the ‘digital heart’ of London and spend my lunch wandering around Old Street and giving out ‘mindful’ stickers. While I’ve attracted a few sceptical looks, overall people have been really friendly and we got a few backers. However, the biggest effect was on my existing social media following: probably people were so impressed by how I made a fool out of myself that it became our biggest donation day throughout the campaign.
What I’ve learned: It’s about a balance. Online blends nicely with offline. People like to have offline experiences, but getting them to talk about this online amplifies your reach.
As of writing this blog post, we’re 94% financed, and still have 3 days to go. To get your copy of Homo Distractus or digital detox cards, please, check our Indiegogo campaign.
“Phone is an enemy of creativity”. Interview with Grammy-winner singer and song writer Corinne Bailey Rae
Creative people appreciate the value of being off the grid. A US rapper Kanye West famously tweeted that he got rid of his smartphone to have “air to create”. British musician Ed Sheeran, according to some critics, has written his “best album ever yet” after taking a full digital detox.
So when representatives of Grammy-award winning British singer and songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae contacted me and said Corinne would like to record a podcast with me for her new album and talk about being in the moment, I instantly knew we’ll have lots to talk about. We talked about the importance of listening to our inner selves, and how gadgets can prevent us from doing this. First Corinne interviewed me for her podcast and later I interviewed her for my book Homo Distractus.
Below is the extract from our conversation for my chapter about creativity and the value of unplugging for Homo Distractus.
Recovering from a loss of my first husband took me away from people and noise of everyday life. As I had lots of time on my own, I realized how many internal resource we have to repair ourselves, how much internal wisdom we have. And so when I started going out of that period, I wanted to keep listening to my inner voice, my intuition, to keep paying attention to people and whatever made me happy.
For me being in the moment is a key. In the creative world the highs are really high, but they can easily be disintegrated if we are not “drinking them” at the time. For example, if after a gig instead of talking to people I need to do something related to business, or post something on social media, I can just feel how this subtle feeling, creative spirit, is disappearing.
It’s so difficult to be in the moment. I remember an episode, when I was really lucky to work with my hero Stevie Wonder, and when being in the same room with him, I had this thought at the back of my mind: “This would make an amazing photo!” This thought was taking me right out of the moment, and I don’t want this to happen.
I once went to see Prince’s concert, and he got lots of people on stage from the public to dance with him. And there was one who spent the whole 10 minutes she was on the stage begging someone from the public to throw her phone to her. She was not in the moment for any single second! Another example, at the inauguration of Obama, when he and Michelle were dancing, all invited guests were filming this dance with cameras. This is ridiculous, this was a national event, of course CNN was covering it, they surely wouldn’t have got better quality on their mobiles than CNN. So what was the point?
This is the event that will never happen again! Every moment is unrepeatable. In pursue of trying to capture something in technology we miss on life itself. I’m keen not to miss on my own life.
I do make rules for myself in terms of how to use technology, but I am also quite disorganized so I like to go with the flow. I do some social media to a small degree, but I am very conscious that for one good Instagram photo you need to take 15 shoots, and it takes you out of the moment. In private life, I always keep my phone on silent, just looking at it once in a while, and sometimes discover that it’s ringing, so then I pick it up and it’s a good coincidence. Of course, if I am shopping with my husband and we go to different parts of the supermarket, I’ll keep it on.
I have a set up for friends that they just can come around to my house without calling me.
For creative work I definitely like to get lost in the moment. There’s no way I could work with my phone near me, checking whether I have a new Instagram like, so lots of time my phone is just not in the same room. I just go to it as if it were an answering machine.
I don’t want to constantly present my life as idealized and don’t feel I have to be an ultraversion of myself. My brand is about a more natural presentation of myself anyways, so I feel a lot less pressure to keep up with the buzz, I guess I am lucky.
For me the main danger is not so much always being on, but constantly getting comments. 50 people may say “you look nice”, but if there is just one odd or negative comment, it will stay with you. It’s no good to hear too many positive things, either, but negative things told directly into your phone are difficult, phone just feels too private to me.
If you are a creative person, you should have time to develop whatever you are working on. I know many committed writers who are not on Twitter for this reason. You think of a funny thing you’d write now, but if you leak it out into the public space too early, it will take away the potency of the idea.
Contemporary artist Tracey Emin says that the phone is an enemy of creativity, and I tend to agree. It creates the interruption you don’t need.
I would rather get out of the studio and see that I have missed 3 calls, rather than ask myself – what was I doing, was I recording something, when I got interrupted? Give up the idea you’re missing out.
Sometimes you will miss out on something, but sometimes you’ll have a massive 3 hour chat with your friend, and if you were to move somewhere just because other friends were there, you would lose this opportunity. Not every choice has to be made. Sometimes you have just to be where you are, giving your attention to this particular person. Otherwise you are never really fully there.
Tech can be massive help to creativity, but you have to choose it. I consciously go online to do some research, but sometimes I notice: I have looked already on this website twice today, there isn’t really anything new here. On my screen I have a reminder “Go outside” popping out, which helps. I also sometimes write down “next time I’ll look at this or that”. I can definitely be really sucked into browsing pages, like staying for hours on Pinterest.
So you have to keep being very aware, and conscious, whether you are you even enjoying your browsing? Am I really wanting to see what I am seeing, or am I doing it out of habit? So when I am thinking that I am not enjoying all these images, I just close it, and go outside.
This interview has been recorded for Anastasia’s new book Homo Distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age. Grab your copy here.
Being “always on” can be overwhelming for your brain and nervous system. These 7 tips will help you “digitally detox” without getting rid of technology altogether.
1.Disable notifications and all sounds on your devices
Why? Notifications remind you to check your device, and the more you receive them, the stronger this habit becomes. Device and app producers know this (there is even a “habit forming” design school!), and so send you as many notifications as they can, no matter how relevant they are, so your behaviour eventually becomes automatic and unconscious.
How it works? By disabling notifications, you start acting consciously, as opposed to allowing your device to decide for you, when to check it.
2.Keep your devices outside of your bedroom and dining table
Why? It will improve your quality of sleep and sexual life, and help you manage your weight.
How it works? Keeping your phone next to your bed puts your brain in the state of alert, as if you left the house door open. Additionally, couples who keep iPads in the bedroom tend to have little to no sex – our brain simply finds the device more pleasurable! So leave your devices to recharge outside of your bedroom.
Similarly, don’t get them out at the dining table: when distracted, you are less likely to pay attention at what you are eating, and remember it. So you end up overeating both at the current and the next meal and gain weight you could’ve easily avoided by not staring at your screen during mealtime.
3.Use blocking apps
Why? If you ever tried to focus on something for 20 minutes while online, you know how hard it is. Simply relying on your willpower to stay focused is not an option, as your brain has already been wired through long-time use of devices to be distracted.
How it works? An app (Moment, Quality Time, Freedom, Antisocial, FocusON) or a browser extension (RescueTime, Stayfocusd, LeechBlock) allows you to block access to all or some websites for a certain time. I personally enjoy Newsfeed Eradicator for Facebook that selectively blocks your newsfeed but leaves access to messenger, so you can still talk to friends.
4.Stop multitasking and put your device out of sight
Why? We can’t multitask well, and by switching between different windows or devices you are teaching your brain to be more distracted. The mere presence of your smartphone, even when it’s off or in your bag, can make you distracted.
How this works? Focus on doing something in one window, and only then switch to the other. Don’t work on several devices unless you must. To concentrate on one thing, best to keep your phone in a separate room or at least not within your reach. Similarly, when done with work, hide your laptop, so you don’t feel tempted to check it.
5.Declutter your smartphone
Why? Every little decision eats our brain energy and will power. This is why Barack Obama or Mark Zuckerberg prefer to wear the same model of clothes every day, eliminating unnecessary decisions. Too many apps mean too much choice, and additional temptation to check something.
How it works? Get rid of all apps you don’t use or that eat your time (Facebook Messenger is on top of my list). Put others in folders, and move them away from the first page, so you need at least 3 clicks or more to reach them. This way, you have more time to think, if you really need to click before you do, and eliminate unnecessary decisions.
Why? We bought into the idea that we need to react fast when online, although often we don’t. 70% of employees respond to emails straight away, whereas only 30% say their boss or colleagues expect them to.
How it works? By delaying your reaction to a stimuli (i.e. incoming email) you are unlearning to be a Pavlov dog. Next time you feel an urge to react, ask yourself, if this is really urgent, and delay checking or replying for 1, 2, 5 minutes etc.
7. Read a book
Why? Deep reading is the best training for staying focused for a long time, which helps to solve problems and take better decisions. It is also the best way to relax that reduces stress levels by 68%.
How it works? If you haven’t read a print book for a while, start with 2-3 pages a day without any interruptions, and gradually increase the number of pages. Get my new book, Homo Distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age, as a reading manual (it has other useful tips on claiming back your time and attention without giving up your tech).
You may know that I've been working on this book for the last year and a half... and it's nearly ready! We've got a title (thanks to our subscribers for voting!), an amazing book cover, and last week shoot a video for the promo campaign. Homo Distractus will soon be launched, soo excited and can't wait - and if you want to pre-order the book with 10% off, leave your email following the link above! And so far a few sneak pics from working on it :)
Thanks a lot to everyone who has sent me their questions about my upcoming book. There are actually 100 questions precisely (I take it as a very good sign!), and I am going through each of them and making sure they are addressed in the book.
While I am doing that, I decided to record this video to give you an update about the book, and start answering some of them. Totally inspired, and getting back into writing!
PS You can read the first and second chapters here for free, and if you want to get updates about the book and know when it's published, please leave me your email below the video (if you have already left me your email, no need to duplicate here).
Anastasia Dedyukhina’s new book “Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age” is crowdfunding! To get your copy, support our campaign.
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 8.5 MINUTES
This is an extract from Anastasia Dedyukhina’s new book Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age” To be the first one to know when the book is published, please leave your email below this post.
Before the digital era, when a phone rang and we were busy or just didn’t feel like talking, we ignored it. Nowadays, if you refuse to connect, it is seen an act of rebellion. No privacy is left.
Technology has not only removed the boundaries between work and private life, something political activists of the past arduously fought for decades, but also seriously lengthened the work day. In the US 47% office workers believe that tech has increased their working hours, and at least one in three employees feel they are expected to be reachable after office hours.
When staying connected defines your career progress, employees willingly get on a “digital leash”. Connection is seen as a proxy of loyalty and productivity. Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer famously prohibited employees from working from home, when she discovered they had not been logging into the corporate email. Even with no formal pressure, we often willingly put this digital leash on ourselves. Early stage business owners, for example, are often proud of staying connected 24/7 and see this as a proof that they are controlling their business.
But does being connected all the time really help our productivity and business?
What research says
It turns out, it doesn’t. Multiple research proves constant connection can actually damage the concentration, productivity and sometimes even health of employees and, consequently, the company bottom line.
One of the top researchers of technology and humans Gloria Mark from the University of California at Irving has shown that people who do not check work email on a regular basis are less stressed, more productive and can focus longer on a single task.
Similarly, when a Harvard Business School researchers Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter convinced a team of management consultants at BCG to unplug once a week to focus entirely on delivering a project, they became more productive, reported more open communication with colleagues and delivered a better product to the client. Curiously, the relationship between the client and the unplugged team of consultants not only didn’t suffer, but improved. Contrary to their expectations, the client didn’t mind the team to unplug as long as he knew, when consultants were available.
Research also shows that an extended working day doesn’t make us better workers. From a study by John Pencavel from Stanford University we know that productivity falls after a 50-hour working week, and after the 55th hour putting in extra hours doesn't add anything. In other words, my may try to convince ourselves or our bosses that when we check emails at 10pm, we are being productive, but in reality, we are not.
Lastly, we know that while technology increased our working time, instead of using it productively and creatively, we end up bridging the gap between various programs and moving information around (i.e. from email into a presentation). For instance, McKinsey estimates that an average office worker spends 28% of his work day just on managing emails. No one would call this a productive use of time.
What your body says
When we are constantly connected, are exposed to lots of diverse information, and switch between different tasks (something we do online all the time), we tend to get tired faster. Specifically, one part of our brain responsible for self-control and decision-making, pre-frontal cortex, gets overwhelmed. When this happens, we become more likely to make mistakes, take worse decisions, not manage well our emotional reactions, and tend to lose focus on the bigger picture. We also lose the ability to understand, what’s relevant to our work, and what’s not. In other words, with digital overwhelm we stop being professional.
If we further force ourselves to stay connected, our brain opts in for the easiest “reward” – and so we might end up just checking email for hundred times per hour, as opposed to doing what will really make a difference.
And as our stomach needs time to digest food, so our brain needs to process information we’ve been feeding into it. There is time to take information in, and time to digest it (this happens unconsciously). If we don’t stop staffing the brain with information, it won’t have time to digest. As a result, we’ll quickly get mentally obese – we’ll get a lazy brain that is not unable to concentrate, perform fast enough, and feeds itself mainly on junk food like cat pictures in social media.
Lastly, longer working hours though are known to create unnecessary stress for the body, which can lead to health issues. For example, the UK employees who work the longest hours are also known for taking more health-related leaves than their European colleagues.
What society says
So why are we still expecting employees to stay constantly connected and reward this behaviour? Why do we assume that being connected is equal to being productive?
There is a number of reasons. First, it’s just easier to do so. As Cal Newport explains in his bestselling book “Deep mind”, digital busyness has become a proxy of productivity, because knowledge workers don’t anymore have a clearly defined outcome of their work, and so it’s difficult to measure their productivity.
If you are a builder, you know your work is finished, when you have built a house, and you know how many houses you can build in a given year. But how can a knowledge worker show he’s being? Being the first one to respond to emails is certainly one way to imitate productivity both in front of your boss or yourself.
The second reason is that we have bought into a bright future of a constantly connected culture. We’ve been shown the shiny benefits of instant collaboration, real-time updates etc. Digital nomads with their laptops by the side of the swimming pool. And yes, these are great benefits. The problem is, connected culture comes with a price, and tech companies did not tell us about it. The price is our inability to concentrate and stay focused (we need large uninterrupted chunks of time to do deep meaningful work). The price is our body and brain being in a constant state of alert, trying to be on top of everything all the time, and perform at the same time. As with the Harvard experiment with BCG consultants, we just assume we need to be connected, even if there is no real need and it has no real impact on our relationships. It’s a matter of habit, and in many cases it has become a bad habit.
Third, we end up staying connected all the time because of how tech products are designed. I have written a lot about it already, explaining how phones, apps and websites are designed to keep you endlessly browsing and scrolling, as opposed to finish your task and go – this is how online companies make money.
Fourth, most managers simply don’t understand, how our brain works and where productivity and creativity come from. That’s not what they have studied. And while “digital skills” has become the new mantra of HR conferences, there is no understanding whatsoever of how these digital skills need to be combined with human skills – ability to stay focused, concentrated, creative, and get the most of your brain.
What can we do
It’s not all so gloom, and both businesses and entire states slowly start realizing the importance of not only connecting, but also disconnecting. Brazil demands that employees are compensated for checking emails out of the working hours, and the French law that prohibits to require employees to check emails after working hours acknowledges that ‘the blurring of the borders between private life and professional life<…> are risks associated with the usage of digital technology’.
Virgin UK has introduced a 2-hour per week email ban for all senior management, Volkswagen does not allow sending or receiving emails after an employee’s shift has ended and Daimler, another car manufacturer, has an optional auto-delete email policy. All emails employees receive while on vacation gets deleted, and an auto response suggests to email back if something is very important, or contact their colleagues.
While these attempts are certainly better than nothing, unfortunately, they are not enough. The problem is not the email, it’s just become a symbol of an “always on” culture. Prohibiting people from working flexibly is not a solution either (some parents, for example, might find it very beneficial to be able to skip afternoons, but work from home in the evening). The real challenge and need is to change the working culture and perception of what technology is good and not good for.
Human brain is not a computer, and it cannot do various tasks simultaneously, or perform equally well throughout the day. It also needs time to digest information. Technology is not a holy grail, it is a tool. It can create a lot of opportunities, but only if used appropriately. What we need is less “digital skills”, and more “human skills” trainings - we need more understanding of how people actually become productive and creative, and how to get the most of our brains.
If we acknowledge that human brain is nothing close to a computer, we may need to change the way we work. We’ll need to start respecting the time, when people need to be offline to do meaningful work, and plan our own work accordingly. We’ll need to become more organized, because we’ll constantly have to make a trade-off between speed and quality of communication and work. Companies will need to find a way to measure their employees’ productivity and loyalty without using their online visibility as a proxy.
It will take some mental effort and as all changes will likely produce initial resistance. What we’ll get as a result though is a clearer, more productive and creative mind, better relationships with people around us – both coworkers and clients, and more free time to do things that are truly important.
PS One thing you can do today yourself is to introduce a ritual of opening and closing your work day. It can be purely symbolic or even silly, like going around your table three times, or putting your laptop in a chest of drawers and closing it. What’s important is that you give your brain a clear signal: “I am done for the day”, and not go back to the device again until the next morning.
(I purposefully don't insert hyperlinks at the text, because they make you distracted from reading)
This is an extract from Anastasia Dedyukhina’s new book “Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age”. To be the first one to know when the book is published, please leave your email below this post.
Yes, I'd like to know when the book is published!
ESTIMATED READING TIME – 6 MINUTES
This is an extract from Anastasia Dedyukhina’s new book “Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age”. We've launched a crowdfunding campaign for it, to get your copy please support us here!
In my teenage days, Russian boys dreamt of becoming oil billionaires, and girls hoped to become oligarch’s wives or lovers (no, there wasn’t much equality back in the days). Twenty years after though, boys and girls in Russia, UK, USA, France, China and pretty much everywhere in the world hope to become billionaires by building and selling a tech start-up.
Tech companies have replaced oil barons not only in teenage dreams, but also in the global markets. Five top businesses by market capitalization are now Silicon Valley enterprises; six of the world's wealthiest 10 people made their money in technology.
Our time and attention is what feeds this growth. It became the main currency of today’s economy.
The new gods
In pre-historic times, humans were constantly short of energy, and so needed to constantly hunt (or gather) to refill it. This consumed most of their time. As civilization progressed and we discovered and started using fire, and then electricity, we were able to gain more energy from food, and consequently, more free time.
We didn’t make a good use of it though. This time and energy is now occupied by very large internet corporations. Technology has become a new kind of religion, and the ultimate goal of these new gods is to keep us online as much as they can.
We check our devices between 85 and 221 times per day, scroll down pre-loaded Facebook and Youtube feeds, buy things online even when don’t need them, and continue to endlessly consume. We can’t concentrate anymore without being interrupted every five minutes by a notification. And even if researchers like Gloria Mark from University of California, Irvine, show that even a short interruption significantly increases the time needed to complete a task and is bad for your productivity, we are increasingly encouraged to be distracted – in the office and outside of it. In fact, we are told that we are being productive and agile by trying to be everything everywhere.
Click and keep
A number of studies by Microsoft, Google and similar companies show that the longer we stay online, the more likely we are to buy something. The more internet pages we browse through, the more advertising an internet company can show us, and so the more money they make.
As a result, their KPIs, their success metrics, and designers’ bonuses, are usually tied to how much time we spend on a website or app, and not on how productive or focused we are. Their objective is to keep us online as long as possible, and to make us click on the ad links as much as possible. And they succeed, if one can call it a success. As per Ofcom report, 49% of Brits admit to spend more time online than originally intended.
In “the click economy”, each click is rewarded by money. And usually it’s Google and Facebook who benefit from a “click economy” the most, since they have the most visitors.
The business models that require people’s attention and clicking on links require a constant flow of new content, which needs to be produced at a top speed. The goal of many popular sites is therefore no longer information, but the attention itself. The quality of this attention doesn’t matter, as long as people click.
Whereas there have been experiments to measure, how engaged and interested in the content visitors are, most advertising is still sold based on cpc (cost per click). Just because it’s the easier for a media planner (a person who decides, how ad dollars or pounds will be spent across different websites) to use one number to compare the costs of buying ads on different websites, even if the audience of these websites is completely different.
This is why both advertisements and article headlines get more extreme and nonsensical. You might have heard of the term “clickbait titles” since these are title that help generate clicks. “You won’t believe what happens next”, or “How one woman made $$$ in her bedroom” or “Your mom will hate this trick” are all examples of attention-grabbing titles that make you want to click, click, and click more.
Music videos, commercials, movies, and reality TV shows look like softcore porn: any kind of attention sells. Youtube star Tyler Oakley in a 4.7 millions views video seats in front of the camera with bottles of beers duct-taped to each of his hands and drinks them for about an hour, giggling. Doing similar gigs, Tyler earns hundreds of thousands pounds and enjoys 8 millions subscribers.
Digital economy feeds through your attention, at the same time putting the quality journalism in a difficult position of competing for the same click pounds or dollar with the most obnoxious websites.
The captivating design
In order to capture human attention, software companies design their products in a specific way. This has been described in detail in Adam Alter’s “Irresistible” and Nir Eyal’s “Hooked” books, as well as in Tristan Harris’s blog.
For instance, a popular game Candy Crush adapts to the time you spend playing: if you play a few minutes every day, tasks are easy. But the more time you spend playing, the more complicated they become. Anna, a client of mine who runs a beauty salon, admits she only managed to stop playing the game when she uninstalled it from her phone.
A pre-loaded newsfeed on Facebook or Youtube is another way to keep a visitor on the website for longer. Notifications are yet another powerful and cheap way to make you come back to your device over and over again. An app will keep sending you notifications, until your habit is formed, and you don’t need further reminders, and your behaviour becomes automatic.
No wonder that companies make it really difficult to change notifications settings. For instance, it takes 6 steps to change your notifications settings on Facebook. One of the key UX design principles says that every action should take a user as few steps as possible – so obviously Facebook isn’t very interested in helping you get rid of notifications.
What can you do?
We might have not noticed it yet, but most of us are already living in the matrix, where our online experiences are pre-engineered, and distracted behaviour is encouraged to keep feeding the machine.
As in the movie, it starts with a realization. A good place to get your red pill is to start measuring, how much time you really spend online across all devices, and how much of this time is productive. I use a free version of Rescuetime browser extension to do that, and there are plenty of others to help.
I often find that my clients underestimate, how much time they spend online, by approximately two hours per day. This is a lot of time. This is one extra month per year you could get for things that matter. Do you complain that you don’t have time to do things that you’d like to? Here’s where your time goes.
If money is a stronger argument for you, you can do a quick calculation, how much distraction is costing you (also check Nielsen Norman’s work on the real costs of “free” online products like Gmail for businesses in distracted attention). For your back of the envelope calculation, simply multiply all the unproductive hours you’ve spent browsing by your hourly rate. This is the real money you’ve spent on being distracted.
This is an extract from Anastasia Dedyukhina’s new book “Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age”. Please, support our crowdfunding campaign and get your copy here.
Anastasia Dedyukhina is a professional coach and a pioneer of the Consciously Digital™ concept.