I can almost guarantee that you won’t read this entire piece. As a matter of fact, the first thing your brain did when you opened it was to scan the amount of text and you have already subconsciously labeled this as “too long”. You see, Facebook, Twitter and news headlines have trained us to digest information in many, many small snippets and that’s a problem. You already want to leave here and read the next update.
30 minutes in
On an average day my morning commute is about forty-five minutes and about six weeks ago I was thirty minutes into it when I realized that I left my iPhone at home.
“Damn it.” I said to my windshield as I assessed my day and realized that it wouldn't make sense to go back for it. “I’ll be naked today, I guess.” Yes, that was my first thought. Naked.
Something occurred to me at the end of that day. The entire day seemed less hectic, with fewer interruptions, and I was much more focused. Hmm, maybe I was on to something?
Little Sugary Morsels of Data
A fair estimate on the number of emails I receive on a typical work day is anywhere from 100-200. On an average day of 150 “important messages”, that’s about 1 email every 3 minutes. Imagine working on an important presentation or report, composing a proposal for a client, or preparing an agenda for a meeting and every 3 minutes: Ding, Popup. Ding, Popup. Ding. You get the idea.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, over time email had subconsciously trained my brain that it was going to get little sugary morsels of data about every three minutes. Rather than salivate like the dogs when a bell rang, I was constantly interrupted in what I was thinking and over time, my brain learned to want this. Even if I didn't physically stop and read the email, I saw the popup and used some mental processing power to assess whether or not I should reply now, wait, or I began to think about my reply or action.
Over the past 15 years, without knowing it, email was teaching my brain to learn how to not concentrate for long periods of time and it created a ‘seeking out data’ addiction. After a while - I did such a perfect job at feeding this addiction that all it wanted was data – every 3 minutes. Hear a ding? Check email! Get out of an appointment? Check email! Stop at a red light? You get the idea.
Home is where your brain is
This trained seeking behavior didn't stop when I walked through the door at home. My brain still nagged every three minutes “SUGARY MORSEL!”
Because “I read the entire internet to you don’t have to”, I fell in love with Google Reader, a website aggregation tool. After a few years of using the site, I found myself subscribed to approximately 250 websites and each time they posted a new article – it was fed into my Reader subscription. If email was a sugary morsel, then reading and marking all of the feeds as unread was like crack. I had it bad.
Social media, it’s being SOCIAL!
“Sales guy.” “Makes friends easily.” “Class clown.” “Open and sharing.” “Seeking the sugary morsel.”
All relevant and accurate facts about me, and a perfect entrée into becoming (too?) deeply engaged with social media.
Facebook is the perfect storm for a guy like me. I can connect with friends and coworkers in a social way, share interesting insights, status updates, photos, and why am I still explaining Facebook to you? The sugary morsels within Facebook are multi-dimensional and after considering them together, I think you’ll have a deeper understanding why Facebook is so addictive.
For the information seeker: Status updates! For the person who desires attention: Likes and comments! For the visual person: Pictures! For the social: Sharing! For the lonely: Connection! When you add notifications of likes and comments, Facebook delivers drugs for all kinds of addicts.
Mark Zuckerberg has built a crack factory where we, the users, fabricate the crack but we have to come back to HIM to get it. I should really buy some stock.
Twitter isn’t just sugary morsels or even crack, Twitter is these two combined – and times one hundred for me. Email was like grade school training for my doctorate in Twitter.
Twitter allows all of the same human connections as Facebook, but brings something big and new to the table: Speed.
For me, the speed at which the content on Twitter is delivered is most appealing. My friends on Facebook only post maybe once a day or just a few times per week, but the people I follow on Twitter are constantly updating. I also follow three and a half times the number of people on Twitter than I do on Facebook.
If there is large event occurring, launching Twitter to read about it in near real time is a perfect high for my seeking brain. I joined Twitter in March of 2008 and as of today I have composed and delivered 21,360 tweets. That’s about 12 tweets per day on average. Maybe more interesting is that I follow 620 people (down from almost 800 a month ago). If they are posting 12 tweets per day, I can digest 7,440 packets of crack in cute, 140 character updates, every day.
Just do it
On January 31st, I tweeted “Could you give up Twitter and Facebook for a month? I'm thinking about doing
When I told my wife that I was doing it, she said (lovingly) “You’ll never be able to do it.”
Then I did it. I went cold turkey for 28 days. I deleted all apps and shortcuts and didn't compose a status update or read either site for the month of February.
I also turned off all visual and audible email notifications on my iPhone and on my desktop. I even changed the settings on my phone to download email every hour as opposed to the push settings I had previously selected.
My fellow seeking addicts won’t want to read this part. Get ready to hate me, because it’s all true.
Primarily, I felt calmer and this sense of peace was evident almost immediately. The need to devour data, read updates, and interact was waning and doing so quickly. No constant checking of my phone for emails, replies, updates, and messages.
I found that I had more free time to do “things”. Not plopping myself in front of the computer to read Twitter and Facebook easily saved me 2 hours a day to do other things that were clearly more important. Like reading a real book or engaging thoughtfully with the family.
According to my wife, I was a better father and husband. I interacted much more with the girls, offered to help more with homework and to play together. Becky and I had deeper and more intimate conversations. We really connected and stayed connected mentally.
I was able to concentrate better for longer periods of time at work and felt like I was much better prepared mentally for the regular challenges of being a successful sales manager. I had better one on ones with my reps, and made more strategic as opposed to reactionary decisions.
I also became acutely attuned to observing others addictions. Everywhere I went - I couldn't help but notice how many people had their face in their phones, or who were distracted by a DING or BEEP or buzz of a notification. You've got it bad, people. Really bad.
I can’t get rid of email and I don’t want to get rid of Facebook and Twitter, so I’m back on both sites and will continue to use them. However, I've already begun to reduce the number of people I follow and who I am friends with in an effort to eliminate the noise.
I've turned off 100% of all notifications, badges, sounds, replies, and pop ups on for email, Twitter and Facebook. I plan on only reading each a few times a day and focusing on finding the balance.
After all, isn't most of life about finding the balance?
- S. Patrick Kaine
Two sites you may find interesting:
Just how fast does Twitter deliver information? Check out http://tweetping.net/
Avoid News Towards a Healthy News Diet By Rolf Dobelli http://dobelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Avoid_News_Part1_TEXT.pdf