2 min read

I’m camped out in a new spot in North Hollywood with a friend from college. He’s got a great apartment with a fitness center, pool, patio, free coffee in the lounge…everything I could ever want.

As I sat down to write this email, I look up at the TV and change the channel from Little League World Series to a Harry Potter movie (I haven’t seen this one!).

It had been a while since I scrolled through a Guide, and for the next hour, I could not look away from that HD TV.

I don’t have cable, and I’ll watch maybe an hour of Netflix every few days if I really want to treat myself before bed. It’s been a long time since I sat down and watched cable. And holy shit, it’s hard to turn away from this thing.

Sure, I was watching a high-budget film adapted from one of the best selling novels of all time. But film is a business, just as the ads during the breaks are a business.

I’ve successfully cut out automated ads from my life (aside from static ads out in the world) and I forgot how good they’ve gotten. I wasn’t even interested in this stuff, but the quick pace, high production, colorful ads just kept my attention even during the breaks.

When I tried to look away, I found myself looking at my phone checking email or going to one of my social media streams.

Of course none of this is a surprise. Billions of dollars go into advertising with the expressed intention of distracting you and detracting from your time. Social media companies have hired the same consultants who designed the casinos in Las Vegas to create an atmosphere you are addicted to and keeps you alert.

As advertising gets better, the entire industry quality raises and we have an even harder time fighting for our own attention.

When human psychology is understood and manipulated, literally to the tune of billions of research dollars, how are we expected to fight back?

I’m aware of the threat, I’m vigilant, and I had a very hard time extricating myself and getting back into my work. And as I realized that I was failing to control my own attention, I got angry and frustrated with myself.

I think the only tactic is preventative measures. Quit paying for cable, use ad blockers, download Facebook feed eradicator, turn on Do Not Disturb, turn off notifications, and remove apps from our phones.

It’s so easy to get caught up in activities and apps that don’t actually move the needle. As Denzel Washington said in a commencement speech at Dillard University:

“Hard work works. Working really hard is what successful people do. And in this text, tweet, twerk world that you’ve grown up in, remember that just because you’re doing a lot more doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done…Don’t confuse movement with progress.”