Thinking about Attention


I've been thinking about attention, and the lack of it myself, and others, a lot lately. This weird, sort-of-vlogish video marks for me the start of a plan to step away from a lot of the internet and increase my ability to focus on what matters to me, rather than be distracted by what doesn't.

So, effective immediately and through the end of the year:

  • No hacker news
  • No reddit (including the threads on my own subreddit)
  • No listening to podcasts.
  • No twitter posts or @ replies.
  • No Instagram.

I’ll still be posting podcasts and videos, I just won’t be seeing the reactions to those posts, and I may revise the above if changes become necessary.

If you feel like your attention has been shorted, perhaps you should consider taking a break as well.


After discussing this topic on both Hello Internet and Cortex, I feel more strongly than before that 1) this topic is connected to a lot of other topics and 2) that I've barely begun this process.

I'm leaving the above text as is, but here's my more refined version after starting:

None of the Following:

  • Reddit & Hacker news: these two items are, for me, 80% of the source of the problem that has ramifications everywhere else.
  • Posting on twitter or reading public @ replies
  • Instagram. (Instagram makes me sad)
  • Listening to podcasts

Behavior To Be Aware of:

  • Dual Screening: Half paying attention to one screen while half doing something on another. It's not never appropriate but I'm aiming to be more mindful of when this happens. If something is worth watching to watch it.

Still fine, but worth keeping an eye on:

  • Audiobooks: While they seem similar to podcasts, audiobooks have always tended to be a self-limiting activity for me.
  • NetFlix & Other TV-like content
  • YouTube: Use of YouTube went up dramatically since the start. It's still fine but probably the #1 potential substitution problem. While, for professional reasons I need to be able to access and watch YouTube, the idea is to limit the consumption phase to only on the Apple TV in my house.
  • Twitter DMs: This is the biggest snag I didn't consider. Twitter DMs are professionally useful to me and the only channel of contact for some people. I've set up twitter DMs to go to email to serve as notifications, but I still need a way to reply. The current setup is an old iOS device in a drawer as the twitter machine, plus mute filters that pretty much guarantee when I need to reply to someone on DM or reach out to someone new, I won't see any posts or @ mentions.
  • Video games: In my adult life I've cycled between phases of really being into games and long stretches of not caring at all -- I expect this to coninue and I'm fine with the balance. If you can't occasionally pretend to drive across America while listening to an audiobook, would life be worth living? I think not.

Implementation Details:

Of all the blocker programs out there, Self Control is the best option that's also the most pain-in-the-ass to get around. The times thus far I've gotten sucked back in thus far have 100% been using a machine that Self Control hasn't been set up on. It's really astounding how much brains both 1) want to slide back into old habits and 2) how effective the most minor speedbumbs can be.

Sadly, on the iOS side there can't be an App as good as self control. The best one can do is turn on 'Content & Privacy Restrictions' and then enable 'Limit Adult Websites' which brings up an option to add additional websites to ban. It's really weird to me that there isn't a way to set a 0 minute limit on websites and apps in Apple's new Screen Time feature, but that's the way it is.