So you clicked. You stumbled upon the title of this link on one of your social feeds – it sparked your curiosity, and you decided it might be worth a few seconds of your time. Most likely you have already done the same thing many times today, scrolling down your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn stream; clicking, scanning and clicking the ‘back’ button again.
We feel tired and overloaded, but the fear of missing out (FOMO) forces us to click, read and check every notification we get.
I’m struggling with this, just as everyone else, and I’ve started my own, personal battle with the problem. Today I wanted to share with you my three rules of thumb that have helped me to cope. They might be useful to you as well.
1. CLICK WISELY, AND IGNORE RELENTLESSLY
Every day, you make thousands of small decisions online when clicking, watching, sharing and commenting.
Your every action online is measured, ‘cookied’ , and later analysed and categorised to create your demographic and interest profile. And despite all the recent NSA buzz, I don’t mean it in an evil way. Most of your online behaviour has no use to the government – it ends up in someone’s Google Analytics. But you constantly provide feedback to anyone who’s listening.
Media companies, bloggers and businesses meticulously measure these stats, and react accordingly. If they do their job well, they’ll make ‘data-driven’ decisions, namely, invest more resources in what works. They will provide us with content that’s ‘engaging’, more of what we want. You might complain about the diminishing quality of content and news online, but we get what we ask for.
Contrary to what people say, the majority of us want ‘informational McDonald’s’ – a quick, sensational kick of easily digestible ‘news': don’t make me think; give me tips and tricks, and a 4-hour working week.
And the Web is happy to oblige – we get more of what we click on.
If you see anything you disapprove of or disagree with, the best strategy is to just ignore it with all means possible.
Don’t ‘like’ those sensational link-bait articles – ignore them; hate comments – ignore them, don’t even lurk to check what’s behind that catchy headline, because your click will get recorded anyway. If you disagree, don’t waste time expressing your disapproval (negative comments, reshares, etc.), because you’re generating pageviews and helping to spread whatever you’re against. Most of the time, controversy is artificially generated by someone to troll, divide and spark conflict.
It’s not easy either, because we’re wired to respond to anecdotal and sensational news, but I’m slowly learning to ignore more and more information online. Most of the time its just noise, anyway. Consciously make space for the truly relevant stuff you care about.
Click, spread and share stuff you’d like to see more of. It doesn’t always get instant recognition and won’t go viral. That’s fine too – it’s better to connect with 10 passionates than 100 passers-by.
2. WHENEVER IN DOUBT, LOOK AT THEIR BUSINESS MODEL
Whenever you don’t know how valuable a particular news source is, look at their business model. If they rely on impression-based banner advertising, it means that the more pageviews they generate, the more money they make.
That, by definition, makes the source more inclined to publish for the sake of generating hits. There will be gems, of course, but you’ll have to filter through lots of unimportant content, and the best way is always to stay away from the source altogether.
And run away even faster if news is ‘anonymous’ – when authors don’t sign content with their name. That often means an industrial approach to content writing: pushing out hundreds of anonymous articles for the sake of getting pageviews.
Therefore ‘news’ is invented, controversy is encouraged, and extremes are favoured. You won’t get smarter by reading that, but you’ll definitely get disturbed.
Don’t complain about ‘the decay of journalism’ – just look elsewhere. There’s more valuable stuff than ever before; it’s just not flashing there at you; you need to dig.
Read blogs by individuals, authors, experts, and artists who follow their passions and have their reputation at stake, people who’s income is not dependent on generating a pageview quota every day.
Get a good feed reader and curate it yourself. Ignore the ‘homepage’ news sites, because there will just be more garbage there.
You might take an occasional dip, of course, but treat it like a McDonald’s visit – tempting, but not fulfilling.
3. NEVER ACCEPT ANY DEFAULT SETTINGS; SAY ‘NO’ to NOTIFICATIONS
I used to get a lot of notifications on my phone. My day was constantly interrupted with ‘updates’.
Now, every time I install or sign up to a new app (Web or mobile), I switch off any type of notifications it offers me.
By default, I say ‘no’.
Every smart Web or mobile app developer will attempt to convince you to say ‘yes’. It gives them permission to interrupt whatever you’re doing, and it’s in their interest to bring you back to their app. Of course, they’ll tell you its ‘helping you to stay up to date’ and ‘more connected’, but 99% of these updates are irrelevant and don’t have to be delivered in real-time.
Notification delivery is automatic and costs them nothing. However, it costs you a lot to get distracted, to stop whatever you’re doing and focus on the app, only to learn that your friend’s friend also commented on another’s friend photo, or that another Groupon email just arrived.
Switch it off. This is other people managing your attention. Instead, you should schedule and manage your time yourself.
It’s adjusting technology to serve your needs rather that someone else’s.
The default settings in online products will never be in your favour. There is a fine line between ‘keeping you informed’ and ‘interruption’, and this line will be crossed more and more as the competition for attention increases.
Facebook, Google, Amazon, Instagram and that mobile gaming app – they all need increasingly more of your clicks, likes and shares to grow and make more money.
No matter how useful and helpful these services might be, as long as they’re ‘free’ and monetised by advertising, they’ll always have this tendency.
So don’t be fooled by the ‘free’ slogan. Wherever you don’t pay with cash, you pay with your eyeballs.
Everyone has to learn it themselves, and there are no shortcuts.
Thanks for making it to the end. The majority of your fellow readers probably didn’t but I hope it was useful to you and worth your time.