Digital Minimalism Week 4: Addiction

I did meet my goal of reading a lot more this past week.

However, I’m still feeling what I think are some really strong effects of the Internet habit that trains us to expect fresh, entertaining, yet very low-stakes content on a minute-by-minute basis. Even when I pick up a book, I want to be instantly entertained. And that isn’t how books work. Because I’ve been trained to experience content in the “endless scroll” and “perpetual refresh” styles of Instagram, Facebook, and even Reddit, it’s difficult to make the attention investment necessary to get really stuck in to a good book, article, or sometimes even podcast or TV show.

Think about it: when you open Instagram, you’re hit with a new piece of easy to read, visually attractive, unchallenging content every few seconds as you scroll down. If you “catch up” on your feed, there’s Instagram stories. If you finish all of those, you can pull down the page and refresh for more. If you finish all of that, you can go to the “search” page and find what may as well be infinite fresh, easily consumed, just-entertaining-enough content to keep you occupied for pretty much as long as you’ll let it. You don’t have to concentrate, you don’t have to think, time just passes without any effort on your part at all.

It’s no wonder that this kind of Internet offering is, well… addictive. What I just described is a little scary, and my own reaction to it is even scarier. I remember when I used to be able to sit and read a book–often a challenging book, even one that I didn’t particularly love, maybe one that challenged my beliefs or made me think quite hard–for hours at a time. Now, I can’t remember the last time I did that, at least not without constant “breaks” to dither around with my phone, preventing the exact type of concentration required to achieve the state of pleasurable reading that I value highly.

I have to add that this issue is exacerbated by the fact that I haven’t been completely well-rested since my second child was born in November. He’s not a bad sleeper by any means, but nevertheless it’s been months since I slept from 10pm to 6am without any interruption, and that does begin to take a toll.

Luckily, though, he’s beginning to sleep for longer stretches, and I think I can stop babying myself with easy entertainment and start working on my ability to concentrate on more complex things.

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