Wasted Time


Oliver Burkeman has written a book about distraction, Four Thousand Weeks.  Below is a very short excerpt dealing specifically with the dangers of social media:

What’s far less widely appreciated, though, is how deep the distraction goes, and how radically it undermines our efforts to spend our finite time as we’d like. As you surface from an hour inadvertently frittered away on Facebook, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the damage, in terms of wasted time, was limited to that single misspent hour. But you’d be wrong. Because the attention economy is designed to prioritise whatever’s most compelling – instead of whatever’s most true, or most useful – it systematically distorts the picture of the world we carry in our heads at all times. It influences our sense of what matters, what kinds of threats we face, how venal our political opponents are – and all these distorted judgments then influence how we allocate our offline time as well.

If social media convinces you, for example, that violent crime is a far bigger problem in your city than it really is, you might find yourself walking the streets with unwarranted fear. If all you ever see of your ideological opponents online is their very worst behaviour, you’re liable to assume that even family members who differ from you politically must be similarly, irredeemably bad, making relationships with them hard to maintain. So it’s not simply that our devices distract us from more important matters. It’s that they change how we’re defining “important matters” in the first place. In the words of the philosopher Harry Frankfurt, they sabotage our capacity to “want what we want to want”.

You can read a longer excerpt, and order a copy of the book if you like, from The Guardian.


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