Tony Edwards

Shattered Focus

- 3 mins

For the last couple of months, I’ve barely used social media. We’re talking single-digit visits a month, down from double-digit visits a day. In every case, the visit was task-based and almost always work-related. Zero passive consumption of the feed on my time.

It’s been really nice to remove that input from my brain. I’ve had more time to do things I enjoy, focus has been easier to curate, and not reading about other people’s problems in bitesize chunks has been lovely.

But like every addict tells themselves, just one scroll will be ok. I’ll post once and forget it exists.

It turns out that’s not true. Social media has an extremely strong positive valence.

For the day job, we’re at the point in the startup journey where we’re beginning to shout about the product. We’re validating features, partly through social media, to better direct development efforts. With my role being vaguely marketing-based, I have to do the whole social media thing. This pulls me in. . . but if I’m being paid to do it, I’m ok with it. I’m not diving into defibrillator-related hashtags in my own time.

Work use created a false confidence that walking away whenever I wanted was doable. Just a taste won’t do any harm.

To support a friend’s conference, I dropped a couple of photo posts on Twitter. Once posted, I was urged to see if anyone had engaged. For the next few hours, as soon as I lost the train of thought, Twitter would magically open up before I’d even had a chance to think. The platform gave me a tiny dopamine hit with each like and comment. Seeing that I was in for a penny already, another post went out onto Instagram with a similar effect.

My focus was shattered. The thought “has anyone engaged” kept coming to mind. Before I knew it, I’d get sucked back in. This wasn’t helped by the slight hangover from the night before, which sapped some of my discipline for its duration.

Admittedly, some good came out of the post. Touching base with a friend not spoken to since ‘the before times’ was lovely and probably worth it, and something that wouldn’t have happened without the posts. I’m really glad we’re talking again. It’s just a shame that the price was my ability to do the deep work for the afternoon.

When I stepped away from social media last December, I was amazed at how quickly the platforms faded into the background. The first few days were the hardest, but after that barely entered my mind. Life without social media has been nicer and more fulfilling.

I’ve surrounded myself with books of short essays, spending distraction time absorbing the knowledge within. In essence, I planned for the occasional defecit of attention and proactively provided positive vehicles for it at every turn. Instead of writing content for LinkedIn, I’m researching a book and writing posts for various websites. Rather than maintaining relationships with internet avatars, I’ve developed better relationships with the people in my life.

But this does present a slight problem.

Soon, I’ll be releasing a project that will only get popular with social media’s help. Considering if this potential popularity is worth it will be a question to ponder for tomorrow’s Tony.

Posting is fine. What comes after it isn’t. But I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

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