Time and Attention Fragmentation in Our Digital Lives

 As humans we have evolved over a few million years to be both attentive and reactive to danger, live in social communities, and spend much of our time being in the present moment gathering and eating food and socializing.

The behavior of rapidly changing short attention to content on social media, too many good short form things to watch on streaming video entertainment platforms, are all rewiring our brains in an unnatural and unhealthy way.

I fight back, but in really simple ways that entail little ceremony:

Almost every morning I spend 30 minutes scanning Hacker News (about 10 minutes), Apple News (about 5 minutes), and the remaining time on Twitter and Mastodon finding interesting new (mostly tech) things. I make notes in a temporary Apple Note: links of things I may want to research, try, or simply read that day. I like to get this all done at once, and then not feel like I need to interrupt my activities during the day to “catch up” on what is happening in the world.

In a way, it seems like 30 minutes a day, summed up over 365 days in a year, is a frightening amount of life spent on what I would consider “indexing.” In a typical day, I might spend between 1 and 3 hours taking long attention span meanderings over stuff on my daily (temporary) Apple note. While I feel kind of bad about the 30 minutes of chaotic short attention span “discovery and indexing” time each morning, I don’t feel bad at all, in fact the opposite I feel good about spending more time during the day diving more deeply into the few things on my daily list.

Another thing I feel very good about is spending long periods of time socializing with friends and family, reading fiction (and sometimes technical books) or watching a single good movie in the evening.


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