Stop Browsing Mindless Memes.

In March of 2018, I stopped browsing mindless memes. I realized I wasn’t gaining value by scrolling. So, I stopped. As a result, I spent my time better, and I became more optimistic.

Browsing memes was fun. Memes can reveal hidden parts of culture. They provide fresh points of view on deep issues. They are relatable and viral. Reddit has been the cutting edge platform for meme creation. Usually, the comments in Reddit threads are engaging and strive to push the conversation forward.

Dank memes are something else. Dank memes are often self-referential and pointless, replaying inside jokes for cheap laughs. Others are so ridiculous that they don’t make sense. Dank memes are hilarious, but browsing is a downward spiral.

When I opened the Reddit mobile app, I would lose myself for a while. I stayed awake staring into the bright blue glow scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. My back got sore from slouching over the toilet. Creative users uploaded their new dank memes 24/7. It was addicting.

I don’t remember what made me decide to stop. Maybe it was the final tug of disappointment from waking up tired, again, after staying up too late. Maybe I was becoming cynical. Maybe I heard myself saying the stupidity I was reading.

Operationally, I moved the position of the Reddit app on my phone. I replaced it with the Pocket articles app. Now when I felt like browsing memes, I’d wake up as I opened Pocket instead.

For a week or two, it kinda sucked. But the world didn’t crash down on me. I didn’t need it. Eventually, I uninstalled Reddit altogether.


Today, I use Reddit like I use Facebook: I don’t scroll. If I do scroll, it doesn’t last long, and it’s not too pleasant. Partly this is because I’m not the type of person who scrolls aimlessly anymore. But it’s also because I uninstalled the fancy native mobile apps (the thing you download from the app store). So, I can only access Reddit and Facebook using a mobile internet browser. Both Reddit and Facebook do not optimize their mobile sites on a mobile Internet browser. This makes the user experience on the browser unpleasant. Fortunately, I use that unpleasantness to limit usage.

Maybe there’s an idea for an add-on to apps. Suppose something saps our attention without giving us value. Don’t directly limit the time spent on the app, because this takes a lot of willpower. Instead, reduce the user-friendliness of the app. The add-on would make browsing slower and awkward. Instead, limit the quality and we are less likely to binge. Use that to your advantage!

Hanging onto my attention gave me back my mindfulness. I followed this thread into my next improvement the following month.

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Buy high: Get your attention’s worth

Story

I had the morning and early afternoon to explore before my flight to Dublin, so I decided to wander. While ambling through Hyde Park, London early on a late-summer day, I noticed a crowd of people gathered under some trees: extravagantly-dressed characters speaking loudly to surrounding groups of people. A few stood atop boxes. As I approached, the cacophony of monologues crept up into my ears and I entered Speaker’s Corner.

When I could finally fit a word of my own into the fray, I asked one speaker about the implications of overpopulation. Before I had finished asking my question, he snatched attention away from me and started speaking. He led us on a magical journey of speech and language, countless hecklers interrupted and argued as they pleased. The speaker wrestled for attention from many challengers.

Soon, one famous challenger arrived: a self-proclaimed fascist, dressed in military garb with a Hitler-style mustache, argued for the role of a strong state, necessity of institutions, and importance of racism. In response the first speaker wove a deep metaphor about how the challenger’s thought process could be represented as a sewage system funneling large, powerful shits.

Symbol

But this scene was more than a processing system for word-shits. It was beautiful not because of the shit in the sewer, but rather the sea into which the sewers spewed.

Here at Speaker’s Corner between strangers the right to speak is fought for and not given. Anyone can speak openly, with or without respect to those on the soap-boxes. The people constantly construct and deconstruct the social dynamics that give attention to one and take it away from another.

Social dynamics we may take for granted, but allocation of attention is less like a hierarchy and more like a swirling ocean of pure chaos. Many situations in our lives have predetermined social roles, depending on cues like status, dress, age, and confidence. Social pressure compels us to fight for attention covertly and subtly, appearing always in control. Conflicts that emerge into verbal or physical fights are deemed uncivil.

But when social dynamics are boiled down, rules fall apart and only savagery remains. The prize of these fights is dominance through attention, and the prize of attention is self-worth.

Power

In order to win attention, study how you give attention. Specifically, notice how you pay attention.

Even notice the language we use: “pay attention.” We are in control of a valuable resource that we can trade for something in return. As is the case with currency and confidence, the more you value your attention, the more others will. Those seeking your attention can provide something in return. The intelligent and successful sell their attention for highly valuable resources with developmental benefits. They sell high.

How do you get your attention’s worth?

Take an “attention pulse” throughout the day.

Keep a journal, or use a note-taking app on your phone. At certain points during the day, take note of what you were paying your attention to a moment before. For each entry, document important observations:

  • Object of attention
  • Time
  • Location
  • Context (what happened before or after this?)

And most importantly:

  • Trade-off (that which is received for your attention)

Whether it is knowledge, entertainment, social value, nourishment, relaxation, or fulfillment, this observation will reveal for what you trade your most powerful, but finite resource. Consolidate your results. Are you spending your attention wisely? If not, identify what trade-offs are most valuable to you, and budget your attention accordingly. Remember, your attention is only as good as you spend it.

~~~

The conversations at the Speaker’s Corner are passionate, radical, eloquent, and challenging: true Sophists at work. I most enjoyed the pure awe I felt at the skilled rhetoric of an individual vying for attention. Such social dynamics were incredibly entertaining to witness, and revealed a raw truth about the power of attention.

 

“Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.” -Daniel Kahneman