Navigating Self-Inflicted Distractions

March 29, 2018 by Evan Braun


If you’ve been following the news over the last few weeks, you’re probably aware of the recent controversy swirling around Facebook. Notably, it was revealed that a large amount of data was harvested from the user profiles of tens and millions of users. There aren’t very many of us out there who don’t use Facebook, so news like this hits uncomfortably close to home.

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But that’s not really the subject of today’s post.

A few days after this news broke, a good friend of mine shared (on Facebook, of course) a link to an article she had written about why this was a good opportunity for people to consider deleting their Facebook accounts. She wasn’t recommending this as a sort of political statement, and she wasn’t suggesting this out of fear of how her data could be used (although that wouldn’t be an unreasonable fear). Rather, she was taking this stance out of a genuine belief that people’s lives would be better without Facebook.

And not just Facebook. Earlier this year, this same friend, who has spent a large portion of her life working as a social media consultant for big companies, decided that she would “take a break” from social media for a while. As an experiment, she stayed off Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for a whole month. That month soon turned into two.

When she came back, she was able to report that she felt better about herself than ever. She felt happier. Lighter. More carefree.

More importantly, she felt like she was more productive, had more time on her hands, and felt more connected to her husband.

For most of us, it’s hard to imagine severing the social media cord. After all, our social media accounts serve a number of purposes in our lives. Social media connects us to friends and acquaintances we wouldn’t otherwise have much contact with. It also provides a shortcut for sharing news with our friends and family, liberating us from having to individually call, text, or email everyone we know to communicate with them. Finally, as writers, many of us use our Facebook accounts as ways to build our public platform and find readers.

In all of these ways, social media is an excellent tool.

But it’s a tool we may have grown too reliant on over time. At least, I certainly have. I used to be able to just sit in my house and read a book, cook dinner, or watch a movie. Nowadays, the movie rolls and the spaghetti boils on the stove, and I can’t resist reaching out to grab my phone every few minutes—just in case I’m missing something. I almost never am. And yet—and yet… I hardly go ten minutes anymore without reaching for my phone.

I am not alone. Research now indicates that we reach out to touch our phones an average of 2,617 times a day.

Hold on a second. Read that again.

2,617.

That seems impossible, but this is based on actual hard data. After all, our phones are capable of registering exactly how many times we touch them. And that’s only the average. It turns out that the most phone-addicted among us get in more than twice that many daily touches.

To put this in terms that are perhaps more easily digested, this translates to 145 minutes of daily usage, over the course of 76 sessions.

By now, you probably see where I’m going with this. Last month I wrote about how important it is for us to find time to write between the distractions of life. For the most part, I was talking about being distracted by the common, everyday intrusions we suffer at the hands of life. In other words, these distractions are unavoidable, we all suffer them, and so we need to find a way to work around them.

But what about the self-inflicted distractions? If you’re like the average cell phone user, reaching out to touch it thousands of times a day and flushing away almost two and a half hours of your day, you’re probably not feeling too productive.

It’s mind-boggling to consider the sheer tonnage of wasted hours we have all spent staring at our social media feeds like zombies, scrolling down endlessly, looking for something to catch our attention or entertain us. In the process, what are we losing? We’re losing time that could possibly be better spent with our families and friends, for one thing. And as writers, we’re certainly losing a lot of good writing time!

Unlike my friend, it may not be possible for me to say goodbye to Facebook, not completely. Many of us have really good reasons to stay connected there. But we can make a conscious choice to disconnect more often.

When your husband or wife or children come home at the end of the day, consider turning off your ringer and silencing your notifications. Maybe put your phone in a different room and leave it there for a few hours.

And if it’s at all possible, it also might be a good idea not to leave your phone on the bedside table as you sleep at night. Even more research shows why it might be a bad idea to keep our phones in our bedrooms while we sleep, the effects of which range from psychological to physiological.

To sum it up, I’m not saying we should disconnect entirely from the digital world. Indeed, the instant access we enjoy to the digital world enriches our lives in many ways. But let’s just make sure that it’s enriching our lives and not dominating them. It may be a finer line than you think.

I just keep thinking about how much writing I could get done if only I could get those 145 daily minutes back…

About this Contributor

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Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.