Over the last few years, I’ve noticed some troubling trends in my social engagements – both personal and professional.
It keeps getting harder to make plans: no one wants to commit to doing a specific activity at a predetermined destination at a mutually-agreed-upon time. We live in a state of perpetual FOMO (fear of missing out), which ironically, leads us to enjoy or even be mindful of what present we are actually living in.
People cancel or postpone plans at last minute way more often. Plans seem more like fleeting suggestions than set commitments. Because text and email make it so easy to communicate, we use those tools to make plans. Since we also use those same channels to send and receive hundreds (or thousands) of messages a day, each individual message seems less significant. With so many messages, a text conversation to schedule a coffee meeting essentially carries the same weight as a like emoji for someone’s latest pet photo.
When we do communicate directly, the content is often less substantive and more superficial. We don’t answer phone calls or write personal emails anymore. We only text or tweet, using as many shorthands as possible to get our point across. We get so many unwanted emails that we stop reading messages altogether, even from people we know. Nuance and emotions are largely cut out entirely.
These are all symptoms of severe information overload.
These disturbing trends are not entirely our fault: tech companies and app developers have perfected the science of manipulating for our attention. I read a great Medium article on this very topic a few months back. In it, the author explains that:
“The problem is that as companies get better at making us pay more attention to their products, we have less time to pay attention to things that matter, that actually make the world a better place. Things like parenting, friendship, self-development, and contributing to society. Our boss, our partners, our children, our parents—they all expect us to spend some of our attention budget on them, and if we don’t pay enough, everything suffers.”
It’s no wonder why it’s hard to get things done, why we always feel like we’re in an unsettled state of limbo, and why we always feel like we have 10,000 competing priorities.
This summer, I’ve been working to resist the temptation of technology and limiting my susceptibility to information overload. I’ve been deliberately leaving my phone at home when I go out to meet a friend for dinner, and sleep with my phone in another room. I’ve cut down on the number of apps I use and websites I visit. More importantly, I’ve been using the phone (or videochat technology) to make plans and to connect with people who live farther away, since real-time communications (such as in-person gatherings and phone calls) limit the opportunities for distraction and allow for nuance and substance.
I’ve been applying these strategies in both my personal and professional lives, and find myself better able to tune out the noise.