Edited comments from Matthew Crawford, quoted in In an age dominated by distractions, there are still reasons to focus:
Just as food engineers figured out how to create hyper-palatable foods by manipulating levels of salt, fat and sugar, there are some forms of media that have created hyper-palatable stimulation that seems to tap into something hard-wired in our brains.
Strategies for asceticism or self-regulation are having a renaissance right now – which is interesting because it’s not an idea that we associate with consumer capitalism. You can sign up for these services that will turn off your Wi-Fi for some particular period of time. People are finding ways to use technology to regulate themselves against the temptation to use more technology, which makes perfect sense.
But ultimately, I don’t think we’re going to be able to either liberate or self-regulate our way out of mental fragmentation. I think the remedy is rather to be absorbed in some worthy object that has intrinsic appeal, the kind that elicits our involvement in such a way that our mental energies get gathered to a point. And once that gets under way, I think it feels more like abandon than self-control. I work on motorcycles and make parts for them, and when I’m in the shop, hours go by without any sense of distraction. I get really, really into it.
(1) “There are some forms of media that have created hyper-palatable stimulation that seems to tap into something hard-wired in our brains.” As entrepreneurs, this is the explicit goal we strive for — to create highly addictive products. The exemplar is Facebook, which has crushed Twitter on frequency of use.
(2) But from a consumer’s perspective, having easy and constant access to addictive digital products is destructive. As Matthew Crawford writes elsewhere, “Just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”
(3) To achieve anything meaningful, we need to clear time for deep thinking. That is probably inconsistent with being a regular user of Facebook, Twitter, HN, Reddit etc. See Justin Musk’s description of How Elon Musk manages his time.
(4) As entrepreneurs, we need to ask ourselves whether the products we are building are good for users. Or are they the digital equivalent of heroin?
(5) Perhaps this question shouldn’t be binary, but about frequency of habit and usage. Seeking Alpha is a good thing — it helps you make better investment decisions, empowers you to think and decide for yourself, fosters open debate about stocks, and has created community and friendships for people who help each other with their investing. But is there a usage level above which it becomes negative? We’re nowhere near there yet — but would we have the courage to limit usage if we got there?