Digital Minimalism Week 3: Ease of Distraction

I’ve been slipping this week, both at work and at home.

The biggest problem with social media, at least in my case, is that it’s the easiest available means of entertaining myself or passing a short amount of time. This might be fine… if it didn’t also suck me into spending more time than I’d like, increase my anxiety, and dull my brain. For instance, if I actually just glanced at Instagram for the 30 seconds it takes for my toddler to choose a book to read, it might be okay. But I inevitably end up scrolling for several minutes or more, wasting time that I could be spending with my family, fueling completely misplaced feelings of FOMO and impatience, and then regretting it later. Such a bad feeling and, I know, unfortunately familiar to a lot of people now.

When I only have a few minutes of time to pass, it’s not enough to delve into a book or article I’ve been meaning to read, which means that I have to get comfortable with simply being bored in those small spaces of time. And when I have more than a few minutes of time to spend, delving into the book or the article often feels like work. (Remember what I wrote about my brain feeling dulled? Yeah.) Why go to the effort of reading when I could mindlessly absorb non-information and non-entertainment on my phone? It’s like junk food: so simple, so tasty, so craveable… and often so regrettable.

I’m finally finishing Laura Vanderkam’s book Off the Clock, and she gets into this issue pretty thoroughly, albeit not directly concerning social media and the Internet. She writes about how we privilege the experiencing self over the remembering self or the anticipating self:

The anticipating self thought it would be fun to go to the art museum on a Friday night… and the remembering self will fondly recall the masterpieces, and maybe even a new friend made in line for chardonnay, but the experiencing self is tired after work. The experiencing self is the one who will have to brave the cold and the rain and the Friday night traffic.

The experiencing self resents this division of labor. So she throws a tantrum. She ignores the anticipating and remembering self and justifies her betrayal with statements that are certainly true: I’m tired. The museum will be there next Friday. So I’ll just watch TV. Immediate effortless pleasure wins out over the more effortful variety.

This rings so true for the Internet trap.

So this coming week, I’m being extra strict. I’ve set my Flipd app, I’ve set Screen Time, I’ve got my London Review of Books set out, and I’ve got my Kindle app stocked up. Let’s see how much time I can reclaim.

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