Social media is shortening our attention spans

By using their phones less, Generation Z can accomplish more

 Caloia believes in managing personal device usage.
Credit: 
Supplied by Dante Caloia

Generation Z’s attention span is shortening.

Nowadays, trying to do a 15-page reading for class can feel like an extremely onerous task. It can be difficult to listen, complete things on time, or even just focus on books or articles.

Young people used to eat up books, but now, the amount of children who read for fun has declined from 35 per cent to a meagre 17 per cent. The reason for this is simple and unsurprising: social media and our increased electronic device usage.

Beyond reading, this inability to focus is creeping into all aspects of our lives. Whether it be during a slow scene in a movie or when we’re waiting for the microwave, checking social media has become an involuntary response to momentary boredom.

Our phones, laptops, and other devices are conditioning us to use them at every waking moment. This usage shortens our tolerance for things that don’t involve instant gratification.

Dopamine is a hormone in our brain with many functions, notably those of reward and motivation. Companies made Instagram, Snapchat, and even Tinder to give us as much of this natural happiness drug as possible in a short period of time. Every like, follow, or simple notification releases a small burst of euphoria, reinforcing the brain to seek this pleasure.

We’ve all become dopamine addicts; it’s being fed to us by our phones. Social media has taken over our attention spans through quick and instant gratification, affecting our brains’ ability to focus on anything else we feel is less interesting. 

Fortunately, while this issue is so widespread, there are ways to combat it.

Outright deleting social media can work, but it also prevents you from reaping its few benefits, such as maintaining connections or sharing information. Besides, it’s all too easy to relapse and re-download an app just a few days after deleting it.

Retraining your brain’s relationship with dopamine may be a better solution. This process may sound tedious, but simple lifestyle changes can go a long way.

Avoid going on your phone an hour after you wake up unless necessary. Doing this will force you to focus on your morning routine, like brushing your teeth and making your bed.

Instead of getting distracted every few minutes, you’ll be able to efficiently complete these tasks and save your brain power for something more productive, like planning out your goals for the day or doing schoolwork.

Turning off unnecessary notifications also helps remove unnecessary interruptions. We all feel a strong impulse to check our devices at every buzz or ring; setting notification boundaries on apps takes away the curiosity to mindlessly look for updates.

Set specific times to check social media. If you’ve been in a class for an hour and a half without getting distracted, then reward yourself by checking your socials for a few minutes afterwards. Doing this teaches your brain to link extended periods of focus with a dopamine boost.

If I look back on the time I’ve spent since I put these new rules in place, I couldn’t be happier. Managing and mitigating the time we spend on our devices allows us to put more energy into being creative and productive.

Reading is becoming easier and easier. At the end of last semester, reading a chapter of a book felt like a chore. Last night, I read for two hours before bed.

Life’s far too short to spend the whole time scrolling.

 

Dante is a fourth-year political studies student.

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