Apr 8, 2023

How long can you stay focused?

 A few days back, I installed the Instagram app on my phone to post Stories.

I publish my Instagram posts through Instagram web. I install (and uninstall) the app only when I want to share posts of others through Stories, typically 2-3 times a month.

Coming to the app experience, I habitually clicked on the 4th tab in the main nav bar to check for likes/comments. Habits once set are hardwired, even though you might have stopped them. It turns out that the 4th tab now leads to Reels section. And the likes/comments feed is now moved to the top right corner. Reels feed is fuelled by an infinite scroll (also called doomscroll) of short videos and it is not restricted to people whom you chose to follow.

I might be outdated on when these interaction changes were rolled out, but it is evident that such platforms want users to stay hooked onto short video format for a longer duration of time.

Such short videos (Reels/Shorts) switch our attention so rapidly. They also build up our anticipation of what's gonna come up next, wreaking havoc on the expected nature of neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Scientific research on the large-scale impact of these short videos will still take years to conclude whether these indeed have a detrimental effect on our attention and focus.

Instead of waiting for science-backed evidence to take corrective action, let's do a quick self-assessment to check your focus.

Pick up a non-fiction book on the subject of your choice. Set a timer and start reading. Observe whether you can concentrate fully. Observe when you are getting distracted or feeling fidgety. Note down the time when you reach for your phone.

If reading a book feels boring, try out a video lecture, preferably more than 30 minutes. Note down the time when you pause and move on to other distracting apps.

Try out any other activity - cooking, painting, mandala art, coloring, writing a short story, coding, etc. Apply the same principle to measure your focus time.

Focus and attention will become the new mandatory screening for job interviews, going forward. The ability to focus is critical to pursue any form of productive, creative, and meaningful work. Let's prioritize it now before it becomes too late.

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