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The War Against Distraction

There is a lot of money in distraction. A lot of time and effort goes in to ways to make us spend more time on social media, browsing websites, checking our messages. There is a lot of money on the table for the companies that can convince us to spend the most time on their products and services.

I struggle a lot with distraction.

Last week when I was sick, I spent a lot of time online. Enough to make me sick of checking the same websites repeatedly. Enough that I felt as if I’d read everything worth reading (and plenty of things that weren’t) on Reddit. I didn’t have the energy to do much more. I was distracting myself because I felt unwell.

On Monday, I went out for lunch with my mum. We were talking about reading and she told me she used to read two or three books a week but now can’t concentrate for long enough to read books at all. I told her it was because she had Facebook on her phone. She then told me she’d read they were going to charge for Facebook, which I explained would never happen, but I realized she was waiting for something like that to save her from the distraction.

When the Reddit blackout was happening to protest the API changes, I saw a few posts of a similar nature. People saying it was a good thing because if they couldn’t use their favorite app, they wouldn’t want to use the service at all. There seems to be a similar sentiment regarding the destruction of Twitter / X that is currently happening.

We recognize that these services, and the way we are using them, are problematic, but we are also waiting for someone else to come along and save us from them. Whether that be the hoax of Facebook charging users for the service, or a service becoming less appealing. I don’t see many people taking a stand and making changes because they know it is beneficial for them.

Like I said at the start, there’s a lot of money at stake for these companies. Even if the current ones became unusable, there will be others to take their place. Distraction is big business, and it’s going to be even bigger once companies convince us to walk around with headsets strapped to us all day long. I just don’t see a world in which someone else comes along and saves us from these distractions.

If businesses are going to put in so much money and effort into keeping us distracted, it seems reasonable that we might need to do the same to avoid or escape from them. That’s where I have ended up. It has meant getting over the nagging voice in my mind that says things like ‘just stop using it’ and ‘that’s overkill for avoiding looking at your phone too much’. It has meant accepting that I have to invest a fraction of the time and effort being used to distract me, to escape.

I am typing this blog post (at least the first draft) on an e-ink screen. The first draft fiction that I wrote this morning way typed on the same screen. It is not as quick as a computer monitor, and everything is in black and white, but it doesn’t distract me. There is no part of me that thinks I could do a quick command-tab over to check Reddit, or whatever. My phone (an iPhone, for now) has nothing much on it. If I am at home and want to listen to music, I will use my record player. If I am out and about, then I have an old MP3 player.

There are other things as well, but I think you get the point.

I do not think this is a one and done situation. Technology keeps changing, more money keeps being invested and new systems for distraction keep coming. There will be temptations ahead, and it may cost me more money, and more convenience, to fight back against it. I do not think there is anyone else coming to save me from these distractions, so I am going to have to keep saving myself.