Losing to goldfish

Millions of miles beneath the worldcrust, floating waters force pockets of blue-eyed goldfish towards deep-sea geysers. Funny how they’re called “blue-eyed” and not “sharp-toothed…”

After the greatest month of posting in the history of this blog, it can be hard to return…

But first, this from John Comer in “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry”:

…Our attention span is dropping with each passing year.

In 2000, before the digital revolution, it was twelve seconds, so it’s not exactly like we had a lot of wiggle room. But since then it’s dropped to eight seconds. To put things in perspective, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds.

Yes. That’s right.

We’re losing, to goldfish.

But the odds are not in our favor. There are literally thousands of apps and devices intentionally engineered to steal your attention. And with it your money.

Reminder: Your phone doesn’t actually work for you. You pay for it, yes. But it works for a multibillion-dollar corporation in California, not for you. You’re not the customer; you’re the product. It’s your attention that’s for sale, along with your peace of mind.

…Stories are leaking out of Silicon Valley of tech executives paying through the roof for a device-free private school for little Jonny, the epitome of Biggie Smalls’s maxim: “Never get high on your own supply.”

James Williams called the tech industry “the largest, most standardised and most centralised form of attentional control in human history.” Microsoft researcher Linda Stone said “continuous partial attention” is our new normal. The sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow said every time we pick up our phones or go online, we’re dropped into an “ecosystem of interruption technologies.”

Before any of this started, way back in 1936, another literary prophet, Aldous Huxley, wrote of “man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In his prescient novel Brave New World, he envisioned a future dystopia not of dictatorship but of distraction, where sex, entertainment, and busyness tear apart the fabric of society.

It’s almost like he was onto something…

The problem is, even if we realize and admit that we have a digital addiction—it’s an addiction. Our willpower doesn’t stand a chance against the Like button. And that’s if we even admit we have a problem; most of us won’t. Psychologists make the point that the vast majority of Americans’ relationship to their phones falls at least under the category of “compulsion”—we have to check that last text, click on Instagram, open that email, etc. But most of us are past that to full-on addiction.

As Tony Schwartz said in his opinion piece for the New York Times: Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life. By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet.


I am often checking my email several times a day. I come to my own blog to see likes and views and other meaningless things. I watch Netflix.

This isn’t a “now you feel bad” thing, but a “remember to be intentional” thing. I need reminders to check my digital consumption, which takes up a significant percentage of my time. I literally just tried to put a number to it and any number felt either like I was lying to myself or it scared me.

So, changes: 1) No more likes for posts or comments. Thanks for the likes thus far, but it’s distracting for me. 2) I don’t get notifications for follows. Thanks for the follows thus far.

I still get notified for comments, which I consider the peak of appreciation for any post I write. I don’t feel it necessary to encourage people to comment, y’all just do what you feel like. I read what each person has to say.

I’m just reducing the number of devices and applications screaming at me.

You could do the same.

Remember to be intentional.

Garbage in, garbage out. High quality in…

Read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” for more information on this topic. Or his “Digital Minimalism.”

Consider what and who can bug you at each and every moment.

Then ruthlessly eliminate that “hurry.”

3 thoughts on “Losing to goldfish

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