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Regaining control of your attention (backchannel.com)
223 points by cmod on Jan 13, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 125 comments

Mario is finite, bounded. The edges are clear. You pay once, and there’s no other way for Nintendo to extract money from you. No single player is a mark. There are no whales. In Mario you can not only see the end but get there.

My favorite games to play on my phone are those made by Square Enix. Final fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest, lots of classic remakes.

They range from $6.99 to $20.99, which made people balk when Square Enix first starting publishing on mobile, but you pay once, and you get a full game to play, no bullshit.

Once again, cheap is better than free. Pay a few dollars and never get bothered again by ads or pay-to-play, but most importantly, you don't feel like you're being manipulated by a never-ending game that starts to feel much more like work than play.

> Once again, cheap is better than free. Pay a few dollars and never get bothered again by ads or pay-to-play, but most importantly, you don't feel like you're being manipulated by a never-ending game that starts to feel much more like work than play.

But old school/classical ff games always have that grinding and levelling part where it also feels more like work than play. Games from before were also designed to be addictive (whether it was intentional or not).

Almost no FF game (pretty sure the first one is an exception) requires grinding to complete. Usually if you need to grind to progress it means you're doing something wrong. Review your strategy and equipment then.

Or just artificially enlongating the game. I quit the original FF when the story basically told me I would need to revisit the entire game's locales for some tenuous plot reason.

Sure, there's points where you grind experience, but it's towards the goal of finishing the game. Grinding experience and leveling up aren't the game itself.

That is true, kind of, but grinding efficiently was probably the very first time I learned the lesson "work smart, not hard". There is a microcosm of reality in grinding which I think is why some of those games ultimately felt more rewarding than ones that omit it. I don't want the time I spent playing Diablo II back, it was worth it. I can't say the same for some other titles I've played.

I didn't know Chrono Trigger was available on mobile. There goes my life, seriously.

Hi there. I made the mistake of paying and playing this game on a smartphone and it is my duty to prevent you from making the same mistake. The controls are absolutely horrible but the worst is really that your phone needs to be connected to the internet in order to play this game. So if you were planning to play this on the plane then you can already give up with this dream.

Thank you for the info.

Of course, SE also publishes Brave Exvius... Which is not only a "gacha" game, but has hours of grinding thrown on top for good measure.

“We believe that we live in the ‘age of information'. That there has been an information ‘explosion,’ an information ‘revolution.’ While in a certain narrow sense this is the case, in many important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach. An Unenlightenment. An age of missing information.” -- Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information, 1992

McKibben's book, just like Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, is even more relevant to the internet age than the television age.

There is something insidious about "information" that's doled out like slot tokens at a casino. Something dangerous about "facts" that are carefully designed to fit with what we want to believe. Something manipulative about "teaching" that is designed to fit through the gaps in our mental defenses for the benefit of the "teacher".

This week I've met otherwise "normal" people who are flat-earthers, anti-vaccers, and who believe Hillary is a Satanist and Trump is the "Bringer of Light".

But ultimately who cares if your hairdresser is an anti-vaccer, or your tennis partner is a flat-earther? Does it really matter if that cute girl at the check-out is an anti-Semite? Does it harm anyone if the guy building your deck believes in zero-point energy?

So long as people fulfill their economic roles quietly and efficiently, does it really matter what's in their hearts and minds? It's all relative isn't it?

But ultimately who cares if your hairdresser is an anti-vaccer, or your tennis partner is a flat-earther? Does it really matter if that cute girl at the check-out is an anti-Semite? Does it harm anyone if the guy building your deck believes in zero-point energy?

Just wait until diseases that were previously eliminated from the continent cause outbreaks in the elementary school your child attends. Just wait until a demagogue exploits prejudices to commit unspeakable atrocities or until some ideologues push anti-intellectualism to the point where our leaders are unable to overcome partisanship long enough to even acknowledge the existence of what might well soon be the biggest change in our species' environment since the last ice age.

All of this has happened before and all of this is happening now, right before our eyes. We can care about all of these conflicting perspectives and try to mold them without becoming unbearable zealots. We can't afford not to.

(I think I missed your invisible /s?)

I'm a little bothered by the "fulfill their economic roles quietly and efficiently" part. I don't know if it was your intention, but from my point of view this seems like you're saying to effectively shut up and get on with the job.

I do not agree with this line of thinking; often people have valid problems with what they're doing. I think that if there is injustice, one should speak up about it, rather than "fulfilling their economic roles quietly".

I don't know what's so unnerving about this statement. It's so enforcing the status quo, I'd guess. I say that if you're a Communist, or a Nazi, or whatever persuasion, and you feel something is unjust - speak up about it. Many people would rightly think there's something wrong with the current state of affairs.

A step back from that, should those sweatshop workers in Bangladesh fulfill their economic roles quietly and efficiently? I'd say it matters a great deal what's on their hearts and minds. And if it matters to them, if they have problems, why wouldn't it matter to us? Because our labour isn't being exploited as much?

I'm sorry if this comments comes accross as attackative, I just took issue with the statement. Please correct me if you didn't mean this at all. It unnerved me.

I'm almost certain the parent's comment is tongue in cheek. The last sentence, "It's all relative isn't it?" seems clearly mocking. Of course if I'm mistaken, then I totally agree!

Poe's law: sarcasm is now indistinguishable from sincerely argued extreme positions.

It's funny - the name Lucifer means "bringer of light". Your metaphor has a Mobius strip problem :)

it apparently matters a great deal to a great many people what is in other people's hearts and minds. I suspect they don't have enough .... ego or something. The metaphor I have used with my kids about this is "they have stopped having a reflection in the mirror, or they have nothing but the reflection in the mirror."

Honestly? Seriously? The pastor at my childhood church thought that things like "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" would lead to narcissism and a vapid sense of identity. And not just because religion - the general ...emphasis on self was a thing to be skeptical of. It wasn't a ... liturgical argument - he was a trained psychologist.

I am not sure wasn't right. It also makes me think of Otto's burned out hippie parents from "Repo Man", listening to the TV preacher.

Do... do they know that Lucifer is referred to as the "Lightbringer?"

That said, as for your hairdresser, tennis partner, etc... in a democracy it can make a difference if enough of them are anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, anti-Semites, etc.!

Your second line reminds me of an essay I read:


> Does it really matter if that cute girl at the check-out is an anti-Semite?

This matters rather a lot if you're Jewish. You're arguing that "it doesn't matter if you don't look up", Star Wars passim.

Similarly it matters if your hairdresser is an anti-vaccer and spreads something contagious to you.

A certain amount of difference can be looked past, but when it comes to matters of life and death - and it can come to that surprisingly easily when things get heated - it matters.

You've not really made the case that those are life and death examples though. It's more likely the person who's not an anti semite is the one who's going to get heated in any discussion about it.

Aren't all opinions a function of preferences, born out of evolution and environment? Only if we had some kind of book...

Sometimes I wonder, what if earth is really flat? What if we thought we were right but instead we were the flat-earthers?

What is truth??

EDIT: Well if Trump takes us to war, we will see a lot of fireworks /s.

> Sometimes I wonder, what if earth is really flat?

Feel free to prove it to yourself: http://www.popsci.com/10-ways-you-can-prove-earth-is-round

I know he got downvoted to hell but he's making a solid point. Of course the Earth is not flat, but there are times when the consensus view proves to be incorrect. In 100 years, who knows what "truths" we hold to today will be proven to be falsehoods?

Leftist believe they are never wrong and everyone who disagrees is Hitler and makes them literally shake.

Go to Cuba.

Internet is only available in hotel lobbies and government parks. It runs you 3$/hr.

However, be warned that Cuba (including Havana and the resorts) is a machine designed to extract money from foreigners. While you can get by for <$15/day, the government recommends $100. It's the only place where Rick Steeves gave up on his 'travel like a local' creed and went with private drivers and the touristic experience.

He was right. It's nearly impossible to find an authentic experience in Havana. They'll tell you anything to make you happy and get your money. Even the family I stayed with - who I assisted with translations, technology, and donations - tried to rip me off on my last day. It's just business.

Treat it like a great retro theme park. Ride around in classic american cars, walk around entirely safe at all hours, and overpay for everything. The art, music, and architecture/decay is awesome. Just don't take it too seriously :)

Just a reminder, folks: this is one anecdote (or two, if you count the Steeves one he included).

How'd you feel if your city was summed up thus with buckets of tar and a great big brush?

Reminds me of a friend who travelled to both the US and Cuba, and got a kick out of each saying how evil the other was!

Admittedly off-topic, but why add unnecessarily ignorant asides (in the first sentence to boot):

"...I lived on the grounds of an old estate down in central Virginia, next to a town called — terrifyingly — Lynchburg..."

...when a 10-second Google search reveals the less-than-terrifying reality:

First settled in 1757, Lynchburg was named for its founder, John Lynch, who at the age of 17 started a ferry service at a ford across the James River to carry traffic to and from New London.

Not totally damning, but 10 seconds more would reveal that "lynching" is named after his younger brother: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Lynch_(judge)

OK, but the younger brother moved away from the area that would be called Lynchburg even before it was named that. The town is not named after the crime and the crime is not named after the town.

> The town is not named after the crime and the crime is not named after the town

And yet, the crime is named for the brother of the man that the town is named for.

Pardon the metaphor, but you're hanging on a pretty thin thread.

Also note that burkaman was pointing out the irony of an insufficiently researched (and churlish) accusation of insufficient research.

>Also note that burkaman was pointing out the irony of an insufficiently researched (and churlish) accusation of insufficient research.

Which is incredibly frustrating because the article burkaman linked to specifically mentions (in more than one place) the claim has not been verified.

> And yet, the crime is named for the brother of the man that the town is named for.

So guilt by association is a thing now?

Nobody is guilty of anything. It just isn't really true that the name is completely unrelated to slavery and lynchings.

But it's by such a tenuous thread that it's deceptive.

I agree. It's not terrifying, but I probably would have changed it if I were in charge.

The name can still carry terrifying connotations given the history of the area, regardless of its origin. And of course in this case the practice of lynching was named for one of the founder's relatives.

I happened to see your comment almost directly after reading the submission "The Sound of Silence", as they sat as siblings on the front page, and it seemed oddly appropriate. A benign bit of narrative prose somehow distracted a reader enough to make outrage their primary response.

Plus it's not like Lynchburg is some tiny unheard of town. It's actually a decent sized city, and it's fairly well known for being home to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Not to mention the history both in Lynchburg and the surrounding area from Revolutionary times to the Civil War.

It's like being surprised that there's a city called Reading in England. "Must be a bunch of libraries there".

For non-locals: Reading (town) and Reading (verb) are pronounced differently.

(And don't even try to guess how Leicester is pronounced from the spelling.)

For those whose curiosity was piqued:

Reading - /rɛdɪŋ/ or "red-ing"

Leicester - /lɛstər/ or "less-ter"

No idea how they worked out that second one, and Wikipedia isn't too helpful there.

Probably just elision for convenience in speech - the same reason the name of the state in which I live is usually pronounced "Merlin". Perhaps ironically, the only person I've met who pronounced the full name was an English fellow.

Hey that's where I am from too. I call it merelan though.

The second vowel sound seems to occupy a continuum of elision from "a" through "ə" to complete absence, depending on the speaker, the rate of speech, the degree of sobriety, and the phase of the moon.

Might be Schwa-deletion at work?

It's a wonder we don't call the first two month Jan'ry and Feb'ry, yet.

It's pronounced like Worchestershire. Almost :)

As a non-american, when I hear Lynchburg I do not think of lynching, but of Lynchburg Lemonade :)

Presumably to create mood and context for his story. He's telling a story not publishing a research paper, a little creative license is appropriate.

Right, the author is priming his audience with the lens color through which they want their readers to see the rest of the story.

This is more honest when it doesn't involve an unrelated (especially negative) connotation.

The suggestive adverb "terrifyingly" is not about an objective state but about Craig Mod's (author) subjective perceptions. Honesty in the sense of fidelity to the objective world is not really at stake. Presumably, Mod is being honest about his experience.

Additionally, Mod is from Brooklyn and Lynchburg, Virginia, is in the South (at least for a New Yorker like Mod). If he'd never been and had been aware of Lynchburg's media reputation as home of religious conservatism, "terrifyingly" is understandable.

As someone who lived in Virginia for seven years, I remember the town Lynchburg having ominous associations. I also recall stories about lynchings that had occurred in Lynchburg as well as something about a haunted building on school grounds. Not that these are things Mod was aware of.

I'm only pointing out that the idea that Lynchburg is "terrifyingly" named is not about being "honest" to the historical and geographical fact of Lynchburg.

EDIT: spelling

Knowledge has never been a prerequisite to prejudice.

Sarcastic, smug and highly quotable, all in one. Wonderful.

This. Yes.

"but why add unnecessarily ignorant asides"

I genuinely expected this article to contain a single sentence that read, "stop reading hacker news at work".

Don't tell me how to live!

spread anarchy[0]

[0] https://i.imgur.com/NIqQB.jpg

Oh God, Imgur is crossing over into HN now. I don't think I'm ever going to escape the black hole that is the internet.

Regaining control of your attention doesn't mean not using your phone. It means being self-aware. The author is relying on a crutch. Not using the phone is just removing a single source of distraction, it does nothing to actually help attention regulation. It's like saying, I fixed my impulse issues by never walking in to gas stations, so now I don't have to worry about buying lottery tickets! You didn't fix your impulse issues, they're still 100% there.

The "impulse issues" are reinforced by the phone. I've very often noticed when I've set aside my phone for a few hours (the rest of the evening until bed or whatever) that I have to literally set it aside at some distance from myself because otherwise it ends up in my hand without my even consciously deciding to check it. It's like a reflex. And then once it's safely at a distance, I repeatedly experience the urge to check it whenever I don't happen to be very focused on something else. The frequency of that urge diminishes over the course of a few hours and is accompanied by an increase in my ability to focus on something else for stretches of time. Sometimes I've even taken a weekend offline completely, and the effects are even more pronounced, and they last beyond the offline time. This is what the author means by "attention is a muscle". It's not that there's some baseline impulse issue and the device is merely an outlet. The device is causing the issue, or at least exacerbating it.

The device aggravates this issue only because the author is unconscious enough that they aren't even aware they are making a decision to use or not use the phone. While it may be a necessary step to take a break from something that captures your attention, it's important to be able to be aware of your behavior and your desires independent of the context. A person should be mindful when they choose to spend time on the phone of what they are deciding to consume. The phone is not a magical device, it just has a lower effort barrier and so unconscious behavior is easier. It doesn't mean one can't be aware of what they're doing while using it. It also doesn't mean that one can't use the device while developing awareness.

There are natural "goldfish" states during the day plus procrastination peaks when the current task is very unpleasant. Because of them I keep my phone in 3 meters from my workplace and leisure sites like HN - on a laptop in another room.

I think we pretty much agree here. For me the best way to remain aware is to periodically abstain, and the effects on my awareness persist after the abstinence.

I turned of notifications of all kinds 99% of them were not worth clicking. I do periodically abstain, but I when I do use I try to stay self-aware. I mentally keep track of how long I've spent, and what I spent my time doing. I then periodically ask if I thought the previous 15 minutes was spent doing something I was interested in or if I was just on autopilot / guided by clickbait. I still use my phone a LOT, but I definitely am doing more of what I enjoy, and reading things that are more meaningful to me.

All good tips.

I've been using QualityTime (Android only, I think: http://www.qualitytimeapp.com/) to measure and track usage daily. Seeing it quantified was a bit of a shock even though I thought I was doing a good job of mentally monitoring myself.

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm going to try that out. On the Desktop I use RescueTime which has helped a bit.

Early next week I'm switching to a 2G feature phone with no camera. I'm sure I'll be visiting HN (and a handful of other sites) much less, I'm sure there will be some withdrawal, but I'm also sure that I won't miss anything and that I'll be much calmer and more focused. I've thought about this for a few years, really since i first got a smartphone, and I'm persuaded that they are a problem, not a solution.

If you're using a iOS device, take a look at Apple Configurator. I blocked Safari and a few other time-sink apps with it and noticed a extreme reduction in habitual phone usage. It's mainly a texting/messaging device with a few critical apps (Mint, Messenger, RBC, Notes) installed. It's a happy medium between a full on feature phone.

As far as calm goes, I started writing again instead of consuming HN all day.


I've been seriously considering this lately. The camera and a location-based game that gets me out walking around periodically throughout the day are the two things I'm not sure I can give up at this point.

There are lots of feature phones with cameras. In fact, it's hard to find phones without them.

No GPS was a difficult feature to find as well, but desirable for reducing the data footprint available to third parties.

I go walking without a phone now.

> There are lots of feature phones with cameras.

I'd love to find one with a decent camera. I have a fairly nice and compact point-and-shoot that I bought a couple of years ago, but it doesn't have a lot of the software-assisted processing that makes it so easy to take good pics with my (midrange) smartphone.

As I was reading this comment, I realized that I had picked up my phone and gone on Hacker News almost subconsciously, while in a lecture at school.

I don't think I'd have as strong of an outlet for constant distraction without my phone.

In a meeting today someone noted with amusement that I was both the youngest person in the room and the only one taking notes on paper instead of a laptop. This is why: I can't always trust myself to stay focused when I'm on the laptop. As soon as I'm bored or uninterested for a moment, my damned fingers will - seemingly of their own volition - flip to a browser, open a new tab, and take me to HN or worse.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Interestingly, that is the opposite of what I've seen in the scientific literature.

Trait self-control seems to better relate to removing temptations from our lives via planning rather than having a high threshold for resistance. People who identify as "having good self-control" tend to have fewer strong desires and weaker resistance. Tellingly, trait self-control also doesn't seem to change the relationship between resistance and enactment. So people with self-control are just as likely to succumb to temptation when it is present, but less likely to be confronted by temptation in the first place.

Check out Hofmann et al. Everyday Temptations for an example (2011).

There is a very critical flaw in that though, people who identify as having good self-control don't necessarily actually have good self-control. Just like people who identify at being good at basketball aren't necessarily good at basketball. That doesn't imply one can't get better at playing basketball through practice.

I was not quite precise saying it is self-reported; it was measured through a 10 item questionnaire that is self reported. Still, it's not watertight (as is often the case in psychology research). I'm just encouraging you to consider that your view may be flawed or incomplete, that's all.

I'm not arguing that people need better self control, just that they need to be aware of what they're doing so they can do what they want. There's nothing wrong with browsing facebook for 10 hours if that's what you wanted to do each step of the way. This isn't like abstaining from something you want, it's choosing between two things you want.

Also, I'm not recommending not to abstain. I'm only pointing out that abstaining alone will not develop practice in executive control and attention regulation. If the phone is too attention grabbing, there are other ways of developing attention regulation.

> The Author is relying on a crutch... You still didn't fix the underlying issues


This would be an actionable observation if it was possible for someone with the problem to fix the underlying issues. But neurology just isn't there yet. Until it is, your best bet is crutches like the author uses or:

- https://selfcontrolapp.com/

- https://freedom.to/

Alongside getting 9 hours of sleep at the same time every night and 30 minutes of vigorous exercise every day.

I mean sure if you have a mental health condition like ADHD, but studies have shown that most with ADHD can still steer their awareness it's just much harder. If you literally cannot be aware of your behavior while using your phone, that's a issue, and medicine can help. Healthy adults can be self aware it just takes some conscious effort. Many with ADHD (especially with the help of medication) can become more aware of their behavior through practice often paired with cognitive behavioral therapy, and live happier more reposeful lives while still using their phones.

Those tools are valuable but a lot harder to access and more expensive.

Sure. That's very true. CBT can be done and has shown some success with lay practitioners in non-american countries. However that's not as widely available. Awareness meditation is also looking hopeful for ADHD, but more evidence needs to come up for it to be definitively conclusive.

I'm not saying don't use the tools you talked about. I'm not saying don't take breaks from consumption. Just next time you do choose to consume try to maintain awareness of what you're doing. You might find some small success in guiding what you choose to do.

Please keep in mind, I'm not saying don't use crutches. People with broken legs should use crutches. Just don't use crutches after you gain the ability to walk without them. I do think it's better to every 10 minutes try to question what you did, and whether it was something you wanted to do, or did because you were on autopilot rather than just turning the device off.

Your advice has some very useful aspects to it. However, It's good to be practical. If removing distractions entirely is noticeably helpful, then why not do it on occasion?

One can also work on increasing self-awareness at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. I would guess that a combination of both approaches would be beneficial for most people. I've personally found benefits from both approaches.

A better analogy is alcoholics who go completely sober. You could argue that it's merely a matter of self-discipline to just have one drink and not get hammered, but... if it's easier to just stop drinking altogether, what's wrong with that?

Quitting the internet on your phone is much the same. It's no merely a matter of discipline, it's a matter of addiction.

You can't tell someone they're doing it wrong if what they're doing works for them. At the very least, if you aim to convince someone of a better way, you can't lead with that statement.

I mean reducing the negative impacts of being out of control is great, but the technology didn't make the author out of control. The author was out of control before the technology got there, and the technology merely empowered him in a way that aggravated his pre-existing condition.

The solution is to develop awareness.

Hear. Hear. Such habits are only bad if they are used as a means to avoid important problems. Attend to those problems! Then the habit will continue or die away according to its merits.

His solution extends beyond his phone. This was the solution he came up with:

    * The internet goes off before bed.

    * The internet doesn’t return until after lunch.

Rivality is the counterpoint of virality.

Information is free. Attention is inherently rivalrous. The author, Craig Mod, seems to get this:

Time boxed disconnection has proven to be both generative and — most importantly — sustainable.

Time-boxing is setting bounds on attention. Depending on what you do, it can be difficult to enforce -- some types of creative work simply want to expand to fill time, and rebuilding state is difficult. If that work requires online access ... beware the manfalls.

Attention is a muscle. It must be exercised.

Muscles also need recovery time. Alvin Toffler's Futurshock is one of the earliest works I've seen which seems to grasp that intellectual effort has similar bounds.

There's also Gleick's The Information, which notes the opposition of information and attention.

We just finished making an app for people looking to use apps less and in a more intentional way.


We had to launch it as a web app because Apple said an app that encourages you to use other apps or your phone less is not appropriate for the app store.

>We had to launch it as a web app because Apple said an app that encourages you to use other apps or your phone less is not appropriate for the app store.

Really? That's the sort of app I'd pay for. Ideally, I'd spend less time on my phone, and more time on my (apple) computer.

Pretty shortsighted of apple.

Product feedback: I don't really know what it does, or how it does it. I accessed this on a computer, so I couldn't preview.

Just got my ipad, so I had a look. Interesting idea. I actually switched to launching all apps via spotlight typed commands though, so I don't think I can use it. The spotlight method did reduce a lot of impulse use though.

> That's the sort of app I'd pay for.

Good new! You can! We use Stripe. I'm sure our conversion rate is a lot lower than if we were in the app store. But it's still possible for people who love it to help us keep working on it.

Oh, I wrote it before the "feedback" section. I think I'll stick with my spotlight launch method, as it removes the physical action urge entirely.

Do you think it would be useful to add a physical item nonetheless?

Do you usually access your problem app though spotlight?

If so, you could try creating a space icon linked to your problem app and give the space icon a name that will cause it to appear above your problem app in spotlight results, then search for it in spotlight a few times and see if you can get the space icon to appear in Top Hits when searched.

The principle behind all of this is to get the space icon to appear in your app launch flow where the icon of your problem app used to.

Ah yes, that could work. I'll try it when I have my phone handy (I don't bring it to the office).

Thanks! We're working on the chrome extension too.

> Space only runs in iOS Safari.

What is it about this web app that requires iOS Safari?

Space works by giving you a set of new app icons to use instead of the normal ones. The process of creating new app icons from a webpage is very streamlined in Safari. As it turns out, most iPhone users who aren't the HN crowd use Safari as their default browser. We're working on Android native, Chrome support, and chrome extensions!

If human nature is to take the path of least resistance, then it really comes down to "Friction vs frictionless." "Distractions," e.g. Twitter, are engineered to be as frictionless as possible -- low effort, quick dopamine fixes. It is on us to engineer meaningful tasks to have as little friction as possible.

Doesn't have to be complicated:

  1. Mute notifications
  2. Install Chrome "Timewarp" extension
  3. Break work down into bite-sized tasks
Some sources of friction are less obvious, and require studying the problem. E.g for me, I found:

  1. Perfectionism
  2. Fear of not knowing/mental fog (the kind you encounter when learning something new)
  3. Fear of futility (that your efforts are in vain)
  4. Not knowing where to begin 
To be strong sources of friction, so I actively work to reduce them.

That's quite interesting how you think about tasks you want to do with "sources of friction" that way. How did you go about studying/identifying the less obvious sources?

Probably read them on a blog and made the connection later when I was searching for reasons why I keep procrastinating. Putting a convincing name to the mental force that holds you back gives you something to fight/say no to. Or you can pretend it doesn't exist and hope it goes away (doesn't work for me).

I hate hate hate, bitterly, angrily, and even desperately, those fetishes about a better, nicer, more innocent past. We all heard it; we all partake in the orgy of present-bashing and past-glorying before. However, let's wake up and, seriously, get our attention back to the present.

Look, yoga and meditation have existed for a looooooong time. And guess what, for every time period, be it modern "over-loaded" time or ancient time, only a handful of people can master them. And what are they? Oh, yeah, attention controlling. I mean, if the past is so focused and attentive, shouldn't everyone be meditation master? Shouldn't people be super productive and focused and attain greatness? Guess what, they don't. What does that imply?

It implies this: please, for the love of progress, stop your whining and start appreciating how much luck and resources you have access to today. Please. Pretty please.

And what's with the fetish against "algorithm"? I despite those who take regular but uncommon concepts and make a demon/angel out of them. Algorithm, simply put, is how to calculate something or how to solve a problem. Sorry, algorithms do not have "tendrils". They neither scheme against you nor love you. Think about it: if you trip over a rock, does it "conspire" against you? If you burn time on some game, don't blame the game, please. Blame the publisher, maybe. Don't blame the poor tech. It does nothing but to please you.

Back to time and attention. Is it challenging to keep my attention in today fast pace world? Sure it is. How easier compared to starving world of the old? Or racist world? Or back-breaking labor (think agriculture before advent of machine and fertilizer)? Luckily, I have not been made to find out. Very luckily. And I think everyone can appreciate that luck.

I always appreciate advices on control of attention and focus. I might not find them valuable (I frankly feel like I can focus just fine with emails singing their songs, for example, so I don't need to completely cut cord). But I would not make a statement against those. I need all the ideas and advices: attention is very hard to control.

However, the whining and fetishizing and conspiracy theorizing must stop. Please. One nation have voted for economic regression while another elected a racist bigot as their First Citizen. Why? Because of all of those whining and fetishizing and conspiracy theories. So, please, stop. For the love of progress, stop.

I, for one, don't like the tone. You mention the progress. Don't you think we'd have made a much bigger one if it wasn't for all those advertisements, gamified social media et al providing less value than they cost us in attention?

"It is, unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry. In olden times it was different."

"Did I have it before Twitter became a demagogue’s pulpit? When it was just a few of us, goofing around?"

If I had two points to up-vote a story, I'd give it to this story.

I have always been in the fight to maintain attention. I can remember cutting the wires to a radio to maintain focus, studying for school. For me the question I ask is, "How do I work on the Internet, but not be sucked down the addictive ^attention^ sucking black-hole?". This article is looking for this balance. [0]

[0] I also note, pg updated his article "Disconnecting Distraction" noting the techniques he thought would work, do not. http://www.paulgraham.com/distraction.html

I, one of the millennials, find it difficult to focus, both at home and at work. Mobile chats, Slack, Hangouts etc. drains all the focus. It's difficult to get back in the zone. One moment you are chatting with your wife, in a deep meaningful conversation, the next you are checking WhatsApp or FB for a dopamine rush. I like what Louis CK says about it. Not his exact words. "Just because something is out there, doesn't mean it has to be done. It's OK to feel sadness and loneliness. Through the experience we get the beauty of clarity. But we douse it with a quick rush we get from a like or a mention."

I am equally a culprit.

http://stopgaming.reddit.com helps some people out. I made a video about why gaming sucks and how you should make real life your game instead. I was shocked that people actually liked it.

It's interesting that he also mentions twitter and facebook but the comments here seem to skip the social media angles. I wonder if we feel subconsciously collectively that gaming has done us more harm than social media. I know it has done me more harm.

This book, a good read about the invention and adoption of the telegraph, includes references to information overload from the 1800's.


In her book "Quiet" Susan Cain covers the topic of introversion and productivity. Recommended.

Personally, I find turning off my cellphone and email client to be adequate to work into my schedule several quiet thinking times a week. I usually hike with friends a few times a week but I also use long solo hikes as another resource for thinking.

Regaining control presumes you had control to begin with.

I'd wager having little control over attention has been the default mode for couple generations. The world is full of distractions that start from childhood. Gaining control over attention requires awareness and a more deliberate effort, through meditation or the like.

Are there any tools that allow you to enforce such things as 'internet only in the afternoon'? I would pay a ridiculous amount of money for a router that could disable access to certain websites according to time based or usage based rules and something equivalent for my phone. I would build it myself but I'm always just too damn distr...

We built an app that doesn't do exactly but, but it's similar. Instead of focusing on external restrictions, it reprograms your mind to make you less distractible.


An aside point of curiosity: That is quite a dictionary at the end of the HTML...

OT: What are these sub brands from Medium like Backchannel and Hackernoon? Are there more sub brands/communities and why did Medium create them?

Backchannel and Hackernoon are separate publications that are hosted on Medium. Backchannel is owned by Wired, and Hackernoon by AMI Publications.

How to regain my attention span...

Quit HN




You just have to make choices. I made a change a few years ago so this is literally the only place I read online discussions (because the signal to noise ratio is generally acceptable). I've dumped reddit, Twitter etc and the inevitable comments section at the end of every page on a news site. It gives me more time to read proper writing (books) or just stare out of the window and think. I still use instant messages but just not on my phone so they wait until I'm home. I can always phone or text someone if it's urgent (this hasn't happened yet).

Is there an App that gets rid of all technology? :)

There are a couple of pieces of technology that can do it - though the general end-result is we're extinct as well.

Apple Wave.

Heard there was a Android port in the works.

> Before palatable young white guys who say “bruh” with alarming frequency spun daily monologues into Sony HD cams for audiences of millions?

This is racist

Did he say that all white guys say "bruh"? Or is he talking about the subset who say "bruh"?

It's rather ironic to see this title on the front page of HN.

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