Your Attention Please

Your Attention Please

  • Michael Cholod
  • Jan 17th, 2024

Have you ever met someone who jokingly says they must have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Perhaps the more appropriate question is, have you ever met someone who doesn’t say they have ADHD? It seems like everyone I speak with these days claims to have ADHD because they’re often distracted and struggle paying attention to almost anything.

Is there something in the water that’s making so many of us inattentive, or is this part of a larger problem that seems to be affecting everyone?

Cause and Affect

As many readers know, I’ve been on a quixotic crusade to transform the design of today’s aggressively centralized social media platforms. My latest observations seem to suggest a mass ADHD epidemic, perhaps fuelled by the endless scrolling of numerous app feeds.

This ping-ponging of attention and distraction is caused by social media algorithms that prioritise our feed’s content based on our preferences. Regardless of how the information gets into our news &timelines, it’s all about grabbing your attention. Social media companies make money selling the ads that surround those cat memes, news stories and pizza-based conspiracy theories that appear in your timeline. The longer you scroll and the more time you spend on a specific topic, the more money they can charge advertisers for the fringes of your attention. Perhaps this is acceptable when the promoter is a soda or shoe company, but when the advertiser is a presidential candidate or a warmongering country, things start to get dangerous.

This endless quest for your attention not only affects you, it also affects the advertisers. Platforms based on 15-second videos or 280 characters of text fortify ADHD by dividing your attention into very small chunks. If you’re watching a 30-minute television episode, a determined potato chip company can remind you every ten minutes that you need a snack. However, if the show is only 15 seconds, advertisers need to become far more aggressive to grab you.

Aggression Digression 

Aggression is rarely a good thing but aggressive advertising is especially dangerous. It can compel a presidential candidates to condemn opponents for ‘eating babies’ or spreading lies about election results just to catch your attention. When the majority of people scrolling already have app-induced ADHD, aggressive headlines and blindingly fast images only amplify the need to disengage. However, if these platforms are your primary mode of communication with friends & family via their built-in messaging capabilities, disengaging is not an easy option.

But what worries me most, is the 12 year-old girl from Wisconsin who loves puppies and is just beginning her social media adulthood. Do we want her perception of the world determined by political leaders with questionable motivations, or by big pharma looking to sell their latest dangerous diet pills? That sounds to me like a direct path to anxiety, distraction, depression and disfunction.

If you want to reduce the potential ADHD induced by social media, you must break the link between your news feeds and your connections. Don't chat where you scroll because that just makes it easier to share disinformation and fake news. A better option is to ditch traditional social media in favour of a decentralized platform where you control your connections and what you see not algorithms. Our decentralized communication app is currently embedded within the technology we are developing for displaced Ukrainians. We look forward to sharing it globally.In the meantime, please pay attention and always check your facts before you forward.