Topic

Time Confetti

Finding focus in a noisy world.

Attention Alcohol

One of the current mysteries in longevity research is that people who drink alcohol in moderation tend to live longer than those who completely abstain or drink in excess.

Alcohol is often referred to as a social lubricant, and since loneliness is not an insignificant health risk, perhaps alcohol provides some social benefits that outweigh other negative health effects.

Or, since correlation does not mean causation, perhaps those who occasionally imbibe just tend to have richer social lives that make them less prone to loneliness.

Recent research also suggests that social media has a similarly mixed impact on its users. In moderation, used as a tool for engaging with loved ones at a distance, social media can enhance feelings of connection and belonging. But it also clearly correlates with more negative outcomes like depression and anxiety, particularly for teenage girls.

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic, insightfully expands on the similarities between social media (specifically Instagram) and alcohol:

Here is a fun product that millions of people seem to love; that is unwholesome in large doses; that makes a sizable minority feel more anxious, more depressed, and worse about their bodies; and that many people struggle to use in moderation.

What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like alcohol—a social lubricant that can be delightful but also depressing, a popular experience that blends short-term euphoria with long-term regret, a product that leads to painful and even addictive behavior among a significant minority. Like booze, social media seems to offer an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine, disorientation, and, for some, dependency. Call it “attention alcohol.”

The phrase "attention alcohol" is a great way to describe the wide range of responses that social media can provoke in us.

Infinitely scrolling feeds can be a huge time suck if we don't put limits on them. And one of the best ways to evaluate social media's impact on your life is to consider its opportunity cost.

If you weren't spending three hours on Instagram each week, what would you be dedicating that time to instead?

Time Affluence

Author Brigid Schulte coined the term "time confetti" to describe the effect that constant distractions have on our experience of time.

When our attention is splintered in a thousand different directions across texts, after-hours Slack messages, Instagram comments, emails, breaking news alerts, and more, it's difficult to actually turn off and find a place of rest during our leisure time.

This is what's known as the autonomy paradox. Adopting technology that lets us work anywhere at any time can easily lead to working everywhere all the time.

When our time is cut up like this – like confetti – our experience of the day is that we have less of it, leading to a feeling time poverty.

On the rare occasion I spend a day offline and unreachable, time feels like it stretches on forever. If you're in need of some mental relaxation, or just a little more focus, you may find it there in that space of time affluence.

Turtle Speed

Our culture is obsessed with busyness. In a world of technological advances that promise greater efficiency, we seem to be busier than ever before. It's partly a cultural phenomenon – the wealthy tend to work more hours than those who are less well off, and thus, busyness becomes a status symbol.

But it hasn't always been this way, and for a long time, the opposite was true. Cultural commentator Walter Benjamin reports that around 1840, it was briefly fashionable to walk a turtle around the Parisian arcades on a leash. City streets were becoming enjoyable public spaces to hang out in, and having leisure time was a status symbol. What better way to show that off than have a turtle set your pace as you enjoyed the city?

(And it wasn't just turtles. The poet Gérard de Nerval was so fond of lobsters, he stole one from a fisherman's net, named it Thibault, and walked it through the streets using a blue ribbon as a leash.)

When the pandemic upended the world last year, it also reset our relationship with work and accelerated the transition to remote and flexible arrangements. We got to step outside of the busyness trap for a moment and reassess our priorities. For many, being "on" all the time became less desirable.

Walking turtles around may never come into vogue again. But as the world slowly resumes, we have a unique opportunity to choose our pace.

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