Intention and How Social Media Robs Us Of It

I wrote about this video on my tech blog earlier this week, because websites, social networks and pretty much everything on the internet is in constant battle for our attention.

In the video, Tristan Harris talks about our intentions, and how the web is designed to override that. Think about it, how many times have you gotten on Facebook just to look at an update or two from close friends, or check event details of something that you’re planning to attend, and before you know it, it’s an hour later and you’ve got a dozen browser tabs open watching funny videos, or reading news stories about the latest outrage that our connections are up in arms about?

Yeah, pretty much every time, right? Facebook and Twitter are designed to do that. Various websites are designed to get you to stay on the site and read more articles, or watch more videos. Everything on the internet, including this site, is in a battle for your attention, and the easiest way to get it is to steal it with all the manipulative tricks out there.

That bothers me on a number of levels. As a user of the internet, it bothers me. I enjoy using social media and this site to connect with other survivors, and share information with each other, but I’m no fool. Clearly, these same tools are being used against our own interests. When we are unable to carry out activities online with intention, we suffer for that. It’s not just lost time, it’s not good for our mental health to have someone else with that much influence over our actions. It can be quite damaging to constantly be directed to doing things we didn’t intend to do in the first place, yet that is exactly how the internet is designed in it’s current state.

What do we do about that? Well, while we wait for the internet to move beyond the advertising model, we can make every attempt to be mindful of how we use social media and the internet. Personally, I’ve been much more thoughtful about doing what I came online to do, and then moving to the next thing. I spend a bit of time “finding” things to share online because it’s an important part of my websites, but I have tools that help me get to the best of the things being shared and talked about. I don’t need to watch my Twitter feed for an hour. I don’t need to wander around Facebook. I need to get through the things that are designed to bring me the information I’ve created them to bring me, and avoid being distracted until such a time as I mean to simply wander around the social networks. It’s not easy, but it is possible

The other thing that bothers me about this reality is that I’m also part of the problem. I run websites. I want people to read the stuff I post. I share it to social networks, and I have links to “other things you might be interested in”, I want people to share the information with anyone who might benefit from it. I’m out here trying to get your attention as much as every other website is. I feel a little guilty about fighting for your attention like that. But, there is one big difference.

Whether you read one tweet, see one Instagram post that makes you feel glad that someone out there is talking about surviving child abuse, or you come to the blog and read one post, a years worth of posts, or subscribe to the blog and read every single post and share them widely, I make the same exact amount of money from your attention. That would be zero dollars.

I don’t make money from these sites, I don’t take any advertisers, I pay for the hosting and other tools myself, and I ask nothing of visitors. I don’t track you across the internet to try and create a persona of who you are and how to market to you better. I write things. I share things. I keep track of some traffic information, because of my curiosity more than anything else. So, as a reader of my “stuff” feel free to read as much or as little as you want. Feel free to share and help get something that I think is actually helping and encouraging people in front of your friends instead of blatantly manipulative junk designed to just get and keep them looking at ads. Or don’t. I’m going to keep doing it anyway.

Just because tech companies are designing the internet to steal our attention away from the things we actually want to be doing, doesn’t mean we can’t fix it. It’s our attention at the end of the day. We can take back the power and pay attention to the things that help us, instead of things designed to keep us from doing something else.

It starts with rewarding sites that provide that, no matter where they are, and resisting the urge to watch one more video, or the next episode on Netflix, just because they make it so darn easy.

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