Digital technology is shortening our attention span, according to various studies in the past decade. It is also making us distracted to the point of absurdity.
One more negative effect of digital technology and social media on us is that we may be not paying attention to stuff that really matters, which makes us less empathetic and decreases our morality.
Big Tech is responsible for our entire online experience, from the stuff we find on Facebook/Instagram to what we read in the news. They incorporate design elements to add or reduce friction or tweak their algorithms to amplify or bury certain content.
Example: When Facebook ditched the old news feed which showed us content from our friends as it happened, to only show curated and selective content that they think is ‘right’ for us, it became attention manipulation(evolving into mood manipulation), which they later admitted.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
Attention requires suspension of our ego, our thoughts and requires us to open ourselves towards the other, all of which are preconditions of morality, empathy and ethical action.
Paying attention mindfully, receptively and with active listening is something antithetical to the current age of digital information overload.
The notifications which count the number of unread emails/messages/requests/reactions behave like a slot machine. This is because we cannot see the whole story, and have succumbed to a Curiosity Gap.
The bell icon on Twitter often has a few unread notifications highlighted in red. It gets our attention because we are tempted to close that gap in our knowledge.
Now that unread notifications, missed calls, unattended emails and texts have cropped up at 25 different places at any given time, our attention is fragmented and highly degraded.
Digital enhancements like one-click shopping, infinite scrolls, under two-hour deliveries, video recommendation algorithms, are all designed by well-paid experts to make us scroll, click, engage and shop more on their platforms. Our attention is their currency, so they invest a lot in removing friction in areas that are beneficial for them, not us.
Making a digital product or service more addictive is a full-time job of Big Tech, something which is helping downgrade us by scattering our attention and eroding our empathy.
Big Tech has realized a critical flaw in most of us:
We prefer stuff that confirms our existing belief(the affirmation feed) and dislike stuff that provides us with new, challenging, complex and counterintuitive views of reality(the confronting feed).
By narrowing down our attention to what big tech wants us to see, we also end up narrowing our morality, unable to see real, genuine perspectives.
Many apps aimed to increase morality, kindness, family time and good values fail to take off, as they lack the gamification and addiction design elements we have gotten used to.
Big Tech is winning, but there is hope. The recent antitrust charges against Facebook and Google aim to regulate attention-stealing practices to some extent.
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