I love social media. I love creating content. I love the unwritten rules that you only pick up on when you’ve been around a while. I use hashtags on Twitter as ironic commentary since only #brands use them seriously. I save certain photos to post on Instagram because they don’t particularly have a point, but the lighting might be good. And I always write two different versions of a joke because Facebook is a fickle mistress. But for all of this, I do wonder what what has happened to my brain and more specifically, my attention span.
Rather than presenting posts in the order they were created, platforms now present posts that Skynet thinks you’d like to see most based on your past behavior, which is a smooth-talking avenue for delivering targeted advertising. As such, I’ve become a curmudgeon. On Facebook I willfully refuse to interact with posts, and rather than just scrolling past, I take the time to click “hide this post.” Hide that post. Hide those posts too. So now my algorithm is pretty much just exciting cars and Bon Appetit articles, which has vastly improved my experience. Twitter is one of the few with an intact timeline, and it used to be loads of fun and a great avenue for storytellers but lately it’s all apocalyptic warnings of the upcoming election and “how to stock your food storage” articles, which falls under the same category.
I’ve read—in short bursts—that because of this constant exposure, we can’t concentrate for more than a tweet, 140 characters, which you can read in about 2 seconds. Human beings, with the largest brains and the greatest capacity for creative thought of any creature on Earth now have the attention spans of goldfish. I find that once I’ve checked the timelines of all my platforms, I’m going back and looking at the first one over again to see what I’ve missed while I was checking the others. And we wonder why we all seem so on edge and antsy all the time. We’re constantly at the ready for the next quick thing to react to.
To combat this I’m reading a thing called a “book.” Do I remember books? Those paper things I used to burn through, cover to cover, everything I could get my hands on, hundreds of tweets long. Books. Except this time they’re digital and readable on the little black monolith that fits in my pocket and runs my life because let’s not go crazy with that cold turkey business. So far, so good. Now, when I’ve made the first social media loop, instead of going back I just open my book and read a few pages. One congruent story, in one voice, with a singular cadence and no images but the dusty stick figures my lazy, out-of-shape imagination can shake out.
And decidedly ad-free.