Compulsively checking social networks makes us less happy. I think we all understand this intuitively, the same way we understand that working out more and eating better is a good idea.
Doug Clinton, writing in a blog post for Loup Ventures, a venture capital firm, points out that there’s a market opportunity here:
People pay for diets and exercise because there are real physical, mental, and social benefits to being healthy and looking better. People will pay to disconnect from technology for two core benefits: happiness and prosperity. Happiness is most connected to the elimination of feelings of inferiority and anger. Prosperity happens through focused effort that avoids distraction.
The post divides potential solutions into two categories: software solutions, which block distractions, and experiential solutions, such as “one-on-one counseling for addiction and locations that ban smartphone use.”
Think about this: our distractions are getting bad enough that a venture capital firm thinks there’s money in trying to help. You can expect to see all kinds of products on the market trying to solve this problem. That e-ink typewriter that was in the news last week is a good example—a $600 laptop where the main selling point is the lack of a web browser. It raised $310,000 in crowdfunding money.
There’s going to be a flood of software, hardware, books, and conventions about this in the years to come. As with diet and exercise, some of these tools will be useful and some of them won’t, but none of them will do you any good if you don’t make the mental decision to change. You need to make the choice to notice what you pay attention to, and then try to direct your attention to what matters. If you don’t make that decision no software or experience is going to help.
Your attention is valuable. That’s why the smartest people of our generation are working in Silicon Valley, optimizing social networks for engagement, tweaking things so you’ll give up as much of your time as possible. If you want to give more time to your family, your friends, and your vocation, you need to actively decide to do that, or no tool is going to be helpful.
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