The week before Christmas I decided to try a radical experiment. I was rereading an old book on productivity that recommended a week long total media fast. And for some reason, I put the book down and did it.
The fast is designed like a media diet. For 5 days, you are only allowed to consume music and less than one hour of fiction in book form (perfect for me as I read when going to bed). That is no TV, no shows, no podcasts, no audiobooks, no Facebook nor Twitter. Nothing readable at all, except directly related to any work you are doing right at that moment. No research. No distractions. The idea is to force yourself to completely give up mindless consumption of information.
I honestly didn’t think this would be very difficult since I didn’t consume much TV, don’t really listen to music all that much, and see very few shows. Turned out I was massively underestimating how much media I consumed.
The first few days felt… wierd (for want of a better word). I had to stop myself putting on my headphones several times, there was nothing to listen to. I spent many long minutes just looking at people while waiting. Waiting for the subway. Waiting for my coffee. Waiting for some website to load.
On day three it started becoming difficult. I went home that night and didn’t do anything. Nothing. For hours. Eventually I started reciting lines from old movies and books just to distract myself. I wrote down thoughts like I was pitching someone. And I’m pretty sure I started to stress my girlfriend out. In a phrase, I was bored. Incredibly bored, but not tired. Which came as a huge surprise!
I was more productive than usual. I got more done in less time. But the interesting thing is that was less mentally drained from work. Even doing taxes took less willpower than it ever has before.
I’m not sure I can continue living without media. And I am pretty sure the benefits will wear off if this was to become the new normal. But having experienced the difference has been eye opening.
I recommend you try this media diet. It’s only 5 days. And you might learn a lot about how you spend your mental energy.
Attention spans are rapidly shortening. Social media, texting and the always-online lifestyle is destroying our ability to focus for more than seconds at a time!
You’ve probably heard this a hundred times, maybe experienced it yourself on occasion? The strange thing is, it isn’t true.
How do I know? While we’re reading about shortening attention spans the same sources also report new trends like binge watching shows on Netflix, long form articles, and the popularity of book long podcast episodes the likes of Hardcore History. These two ideas contradict each. Both can’t be true.
The truth is that media consumption is changing radically. We are so inundated with content that we simply have no tolerance for things we don’t like. At the same time we will put in every effort to indulge in the things we love.
If your content needs to be trivially short to catch your audience attention, chances are your content just isn’t that great. On the other hand, it might just be suited for very short consumption?
Our limited awareness
Everything around us is competing for our attention at all times. Things that are large, have bright colors and move quickly usually take up most of our attention. This is because we, as humans, can only perceive a set amount of things at a time. Basically, we only have a bit of attention and we fill it up really fast.
We know a lot more about attention then most people think, read up on cognitive psychology if your interested in more details. In short, attention is limited and has a set of rules for what is more important to be aware of. Most of these rules we learn as we grow (speeding cars will hurt you if they hit you) some are based on instincts (sharp or slithering animals are not to be trifled with).
Thankfully we have cognitive models to help use make the most of our attention.
What are cognitive models? I’ll get into that next.