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How long do you go during the day without checking a social network? It doesn't matter which network. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; all of them subconsciously train us to swallow information in small chunks. If the item in view is not interesting within that split second, you're already swiping to the next one. We've become numb. Instagram filters bleed together; Tweets fly by unread or skimmed; Facebook posts are viewed and immediately forgotten. We put our devices down and 5 minutes later, we're back to seeking instant gratification.
What is it worth?
What do we ultimately gain? Are we learning anything? Are our lives more enriched by this endless cycle? I say no and I may be in the minority. Don't get me wrong, I have an appreciation for the aforementioned things and they have their place, but I feel like they've made us lazy.
I think this delivery method for information—when relied upon so heavily—is detrimental to our behavior and fosters bad habits. When your mind is trained to expect information in the compact blocks that services like Facebook and Twitter provide, we subconsciously expect that from everything else we read. We crave it and are constantly tapping notifications, but we gain nothing of real value. All we've done is temporarily quenched the desire; be it via 140 characters of dry humor or over-saturated photography of landscapes, pets and edible things. Reading a book or a longer piece of some form becomes a chore. Things like Buzzfeed lists thrive on this sort of behavior. We become drones.
Guilty as charged
My worst culprit by far is Facebook. I check it constantly. If you asked me why exactly I do so, I would have no solid answer for you. It eventually became muscle memory. Pickup device, swipe repeatedly; put device down; rinse and repeat. Suddenly, 30 minutes of the day is spent swiping past condensed bits of information ranging from the latest Android apps and technology, to animal videos (I love Wimp; don't judge me). If we were all required to write an essay based on a 30 minute Facebook session, we would probably all fail it miserably.
From personal experience, I've found that long form reading becomes more difficult to focus on and books become near impossible. Recently, I've become more aware of it and actually took some drastic measures. When I say "drastic," I mean in the first-world-problem sense that can be done from the comfort of my chair. I stepped back, looked at the social networks that I considered dead weight and dumped them entirely. That includes deleting my Instagram profile, shutting down my Twitter account (it has 12,000+ tweets and I couldn't bring myself to delete it wholesale) and deleting my Foursquare account. I look at my phone less and I consciously slow down to appreciate the things I read and interact with in life. It's liberating and has improved my focus.
Isn't deleting your profiles a little extreme?
Sure, but it guarantees that I won't look at them. I could simply ignore them but the act of deleting them just felt better.
Other ways to combat the static
I must admit that I have other personality attributes that don't help my case. As a young boy, my attention span was abysmal in school. If it was a subject I wasn't even remotely interested in, you can forget about it. I wasn't going to absorb any of that information. As I've gotten older it's become much more manageable but still poses a problem at times. I've found that since I've gotten into my field as a Web Developer I've had to also market myself through the aforementioned social vehicles. I engulfed myself in them and at one time had a genuine interest in reading tweets. Now, at the age of 33, I'm backing things up and re-evaluating what's worth most.
Here are some things I do and use to try and either embrace the static or silence it:
- Circa - What is Circa? Circa is an app that is dedicated to delivering important news in a way that is easily digestible and highly informative. Their journalists and writers divide stories up into segments that give you the gist of the issue at hand, and the option to delve further. They also provide a map of where the story takes place, list of sources, photography, etc. If you're going to subject yourself to portable bits of information, why not make it something meaningful? Circa is my personal favorite in the list.
- Yahoo Digest - Yahoo! News Digest is Yahoo!'s answer to Circa. It's beautifully designed and adds a small amount of gamification to getting your dose of news. It divides stories up by topic and delivers something new on a daily basis, based on the interval you set. As you read each color-coded item, it marks it as completed.
- Feedly - Most of you probably already know of this one and RSS is nothing new, but it's proven to be a valuable tool for me. Funnel your desired info into categories and read it selectively.
- Reading - This is pretty much a given but I'm talking about picking up an actual book. Not a Nook, Nexus 7 or Kindle. A real book. If you're not one for reading long books or you find that you're trying to regain your attention span to do so, like myself, poetry and short essays may be up your alley. I'm currently reading Kahlil Gibran's work and love it. Reading is also known to reduce stress.
- Puzzles - You don't have to be an old timer to take an interest in the crossword puzzles and brain teasers the newspaper offers. Get off your phone and start doing them (in pen if you're daring).
- App Audit - Take your phone out and scan through the list of social apps you have. Do you really need all of them? I do this every few months. Go through and audit the list of apps you have. Put them into mental categories. Absolute most important, only occasionally important and rarely used. Remove the ones you use the least. Not only will this reduce the potential number of notifications you receive (distractions!), it will free up space on your iPhone so you can finally install iOS 8.
Disrupting the disruptive
When you've been engulfed in social media for so long, it's sometimes hard to break yourself from the habits that it creates. Our nation is constantly in front of a screen of some sort and engaging in superficial ways. Laptops, phones, tablets and now smartwatches. Oh yeah, and there's Google Glass.
For me, this subject is a rabbit hole. I could go on to talk about how light from said screens resets Circadian Rhythm, disrupts sleep cycles, etc. but there are other blog posts that explain it far better than I can.
So go ahead. Get rid of some of those social profiles you don't really need. You'll feel liberated and you'll give the NSA less to track you with.
While browsing reddit, the greatest site ever, I came across this post and discovered the user Unidan. They have an awesome blog titled The Ecology and it has some really interesting posts and photos. If you're into science and an enthusiastic, entertaining delivery of the endless wealth of oddities that it encompasses, check it out!
Early bird registration for Front End Design Conference 2012 has opened and the list of speakers looks awesome as always. From my personal experience (this will be my third consecutive year attending), it's a great conference and it's reasonably priced. If you're a front end designer, developer or mobile developer, it's definitely worth checking out; especially if you're in the Tampa/St. Pete area.
As you've already noticed, I've updated my website with a completely redesigned WordPress theme. With the help of Roots Theme and 1140 Grid as my frameworks, I've built a fully responsive experience that caters to PCs, tablets and mobile devices. I've still got some kinks to work out but I grew tired of my previous theme's issues and as much as I like the Twentyeleven theme, I had enough of that as well.
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