Thinking About Attention

By Shamus Posted Monday Sep 17, 2018

Filed under: Random 56 comments

There’s no podcast this week, so instead I want to talk about this CGP Grey Video, where he talks about how social media is evolving to capture as much of our attention as possible.

The idea is that sites are using metrics and algorithms to refine their behavior to capture more and more of our time. They figure out what attracts us, and refine their feeds to keep that sort of stimulus coming. This produces sort of evolutionary arms race of attention-whoring. The example he gives is where you open an app, check for new content, close it, and then check it again right away. The idea is that we’re spending less time reflecting. We have fewer quiet moments. We’re on a steady drip of content throughout our waking hours. Grey mentions that some of his friends even listen to podcasts in the shower. Trivial content wins out over weighty content. Short content wins out over long. Our brains are forever stuck in this reflexive loop of seeking and consuming ephemeral stimulus.

Link (YouTube)

As Grey made his case, I found it curious that this wasn’t really resonating with me. I check Twitter once or twice a day. Sometimes my phone dies because I forget about it for a couple of days. I visit Facebook once a week for family updates I can’t get elsewhere, and then leave rather than sifting through the remaining noise. While I recognize the behaviors he’s talking about, they don’t seem to be a problem for me.

I don’t think I’m a particularly strong-willed person. I know for a fact I’m susceptible to getting caught in fruitless obsessive behavioral loops. So why doesn’t this impact me? What am I doing differently?

As far as I can tell, my job (this site) is what keeps me from throwing away all my time on social media. I like the validation that comes from sharing my analysis and having other people react to it, and I need lots of quiet time to create that analysis. I don’t get trapped by social media because I’m already hooked on a stronger drug. I’m obsessed with behaviors based on creating content rather than consuming it.

A lot of my personal habits are designed to safeguard my quiet time. If my Twitter feed drags me into groups united by a common outrage, then I start un-following people until it stops. I take a couple of showers a day. I make sure my phone doesn’t give me audible notifications for anything except messages from my immediate family. I use music to drown out distractions.

I’m curious how many people find themselves in the same situation as Grey. Is your day wall-to-wall with low-effort content, to the point where you never have a moment of quiet with your own thoughts? Do you observe this behavior in others around you?

Also, after watching this video I have to ask: Is Grey a wizard? He takes us for a ten-minute walk where he builds a thesis without pausing for a single “um” or “uh”. No pauses, no coughs, and no digressions. You might think he’s working from a script, except he’s walking on uneven ground while also holding a camera. If he was actually reading from a script then he’d be at risk of stumbling on that terrain. So then maybe you’ll think he recorded the footage first and did the voice-over later, except you can tell by the way he’s breathing that he’s really walking. To top it all off, he wraps up his thesis just as he reaches the end of the walk so that he’s talking about sitting quietly just as he reaches a place to sit down.

For contrast: When I record the podcast I’m normally sitting still, in a quiet room, without any distractions. And yet I’m still prone to “uhhh” and “ummm” my way through a topic. For a guy supposedly suffering from chronic distractions, Grey has remarkable mental discipline.


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56 thoughts on “Thinking About Attention

  1. Asdasd says:

    I suspect a lot of the drive to distract ourselves from reflection and thought stems from dissatisfaction (or anticipated dissatisfaction) with what we might find waiting there. Happiness in Western societies is stagnating or declining, and the rapid rate at which we embraced social media may partly have been because it’s such a low-effort and accessible distraction from (and perhaps also contributor to) that unhappiness. I’d imagine that busy and fulfilled people would have a certain amount of natural immunity to its lures. But it’s a complicated issue that I’m sure defies any one simple explanation.

  2. Chris says:

    Its pretty terrible for me. I have like 5 attention sinks and whenever my mind wanders I open them. Youtube, your blog (yes even if you already posted something and i know nothing will be posted till the next day (at least)) some news website and a tech website. I don’t use any social media and if I would start using that I dont think Ill ever be able to commit to anything longer than 5 minutes. Heck, I’m already having trouble commiting myself to a videogame, and thats supposed to be fun leasure time. Opening youtube just takes less effort than starting a videogame, waiting for it to load, laoding your save, figuring out where you were at in the game, then continuing play. This gets worse if you avoid playing it for a while and the time it takes to get sucked back into it. The only thing that allows me to jack up my productivity is deadlines. Because then you know gotta crank out something.

    I dont think its the internet making me this, I think its more that Im already vulnerable to it and the sites just exploit it.

  3. Karma The Alligator says:

    While I have it bad when I’m bored or too tired to focus during working hours or at home (so I end up checking the same 5-6 sites -including this one- every 10-20 minutes), I do get plenty of “me” time on the bus to and from work, where I can think about what I want (usually planning the day/evening, or working on personal projects). I do have a smartphone so I could check anything… but I don’t. I’m not interested in Facebook or any other social site (I believe a good ol’ email or phone call/message is good enough if I want to know something about friends and family), and it annoys me how often sites ask for personal information.

    One thing I noticed though is that I kinda need to have something in the background while working, music or anything that makes a sound, and I think it has more to do with how we’re expected to multi-task more and more rather than a short attention span (I say that because to me it feels like a waste to only do one thing at a time).

    1. Daimbert says:

      I do the same thing, but I know why I do that:

      1) It works as a way to blot out distractions (direct noise from others).

      2) Silence itself isn’t always silent, and so sudden noises can be a distraction.

      3) Silence itself can unnerve me a bit.

      4) It gives me something to do in the duller parts of whatever I’m doing, especially if it’s something like housework or playing a game with downtime (The Old Republic and the speeder trips between areas, for example).

      5) It lets me sometimes do two things that I want to do at the same time (like playing a game and watching a show or sporting event, for example).

      The last is the one you mention, but is the least important one for me.

  4. Michael Anderson says:

    I feel like I am somewhere in between … because on the one hand I am constantly battling to lessen the impact of social media throughout my day (including Feedly RSS feeds), but at the same time I absolutely savor my quiet time …

    Big one for me – I am a runner, and do ~75-100 miles per week. All solo, all outside (yes, all year long), no music or other stimuli. Quiet introspection and ability to think.

    It is funny to have grown up well before the internet or cell phones and now feel so absolutely attached and dependent on them.

  5. Steve C says:

    I don’t find myself in the same situation as Grey. I still find myself distracted at times. Just not at the times nor in the ways he describes. I can easily sit down and read a book for 5hrs for example and did so yesterday. I also never check my phone while out (don’t even have one) nor do I get distracted when I’m not sitting in front of a computer.

    However I cannot make it through his video. Something like that I get bored and distracted even though I actually find it interesting. I’ll open up multiple tabs etc and start doing something else. I will often open and reopen and reopen yet again something like reddit or this site/forum looking for updates that I know aren’t there. That is because I’m looking for engaging entertainment, rather than the reasons he states. Pretty much none of his reasons, rationales nor descriptions apply. Strangely enough the general outcome (lack of focus on something you are interested in) still applies to me.

    Additionally the general attention grabbing techniques (like in casinos, which now includes screens everywhere) does not apply to my rural area. That is freakishly weird when I look at examples. I cannot stand that kind of visual clutter and I seek to leave it immediately.

  6. Daimbert says:

    The only thing I’ve noticed is that I have a tendency to fill “downtime” in things like videos or articles when I’m on a computer more, and so I hop between things more frequently. So while compiling I always read something else, and often multiple things. But I think for me the issue is less attention span and the like but more that there are more choices; there are always two or three or four things that I’d like to check and so it’s a great temptation for me to cycle through them and not give any of them my full attention.

    However, I can definitely take and enjoy quiet times. I can still read for hours … although I always have some sound (usually the TV) on in the background. I can generally play video games if the game is interesting. I frequently take walks of approximately an hour without getting bored. I went to visit my parents and so was sitting in my vehicle for about 2 hours with no other stimulus but a Cars CD that I’ve listened to literally thousands of times. I expect that the fact that I can re-read content is both my blessing and my curse; I don’t feel the need to seek out new stimuli, but when I’m in the mood to consume something I have WAY too many options to stick to just one unless I can’t access the others.

    I’m not on Facebook, rarely watch videos on Youtube (and subscribe to no regular channels), and can’t stand very short or very long videos, am not on Twitter, and don’t text anyone (or even carry a phone with me most of the time). That might be part of how it works for me as well, since I prefer longer form works to shorter ones, and if it’s too short I find it unsatisfying. Thus I’d be the absolute worst case for them: I want it long and weighty, and if it isn’t it generally bores me unless I’m trying to use it to escape other boredom.

  7. I sincerely wish that I could create rather than consume.

    But sadly I feel as if I don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute.

    And I don’t know how to overcome that feeling.

    1. Hal says:

      You’d be surprised how many artists (and other creative types) feel exactly the same way.

      The real secret is just going out and doing it any way.

      Think of it like wanting to run in a marathon. You don’t start there. You start by getting off the couch and taking a jog (or maybe eve just a brisk walk) through the park, or around the block.

    2. guy says:

      I would recommend you just start creating; it can be an enjoyable exercise in itself. I try not to worry too much about who’s consuming; there are over a billion people on the internet and I’d be comparing myself to members of the top hundred thousand if I measured relative audience or quality. That way lies madness.

    3. Shamus says:

      Just so you know: I actually read Serial MMOgamy back when you worked on that.

    4. MelTorefas says:

      I found Serial MMOgamy through this site (I think you linked it in one of your comments), and I loved it. I am someone who has also tried a lot of mmos, and your writing was delightful and relevant. For what it’s worth. :)

    5. default_ex says:

      Honestly I felt that way for a little while recently. Still do to a small extent but getting over it. It was listening to boyinaband’s “I’m not dead” that I had an idea to get over which seems to be working. Specifically the line, “I don’t think I’ve ever made something that’s as good as I’m capable of”. Even though I have one extremely good example of making something way beyond what I’m normally capable of in my guitar case.

      My problem was with wood working. At one point in my life I was incredible with it. Returning to it in full force (as in more than just household repair) I found while my brain remembered everything, my hands certainly didn’t. It was bringing me down. I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it and that maybe I should just give up the craft before I hurt myself trying to soldier on.

      Then it occurred to me. I was afraid of making bad things. I had got so accustom to making stuff that everyone around me found very impressive that I was terrified of making so much as one crappy thing only I could appreciate. So I set out to make a bunch of crappy things only I could appreciate. It’s working, not as afraid of making crappy stuff and learned a lot of new tricks I never would have considered before.

      An interesting experiment that might be worth trying yourself. It really does have a way of getting you past the fear of failure by intentionally failing or rather what you consider as failing.

      1. Richard says:

        Wow. That really resonates… I have a few projects “on the go” that I keep putting off working on, and perhaps it is because I’m worried about the result not being good enough.

    6. ziggywolf5 says:

      I’ve felt this way, but I’ve tried to force myself to look from another direction: even if something isn’t the greatest ever in the field of that ‘genre,’ it’s still the greatest ever in the field of that ‘creator,’ as in, me.
      I made this. This is mine.
      Maybe that comes off a bit self-centered, but you have to have some level of self interest to do much of anything, really.

    7. Thank you to everyone for your kind words and suggestions. I truly appreciate it!

  8. Hal says:

    If you’re looking for a deeper dive on this subject, might I recommend Nicolas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains? It’s very interesting, a NYT best-seller, and really attempts to look at the matter from a viewpoint that how we, as humans, consume and process information has been changing for all of human history. Definitely not a luddite view where all technology is evil so let’s burn the computers.

    You might also consider reading Jean Twenge’s IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard a number of interviews with the author, and it sounds very interesting. Her book focuses more on smartphones over the internet in general, and looks at how that has affected the young and their ability to process information.

  9. Narkis says:

    Grey gave voice to some of the thoughts I’ve been having lately. I had to fight myself to watch the video without pausing and checking reddit. I have a few books that I really want to read and can’t go more than a couple pages in without putting them down to check the internet. I’ve even started to feel antsy while watching movies, my stupid lizard brain craving to see the comments even before I’ve finished watching. I think I’m gonna try Grey’s solution and see how it goes.

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    I’m something of an outsider to this trend, as someone who makes zero use of Facebook, Twitter or smartphones (not for any principled reason, just lack of appeal). People talking about how social media is the devil feels like… not a moral panic, but a fad. People barely ever rise to even the lowest tier of evidence, anecdotes about how quitting Twitter raised their attention span, and yet “Twitter is destroying our attention span!” gets sage nods. It’s trendy, like there’s a narrative in place and everyone just agrees by default. Maybe Twitter really is bad, but at this point I’ve started moving past my reflexive contrarianism to a sort of “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”: surely if Twitter really did destroy attention spans we’d at least be hearing about a friend of a friend of mine who turned his life around by quitting.

  11. Syal says:

    I’ve still got plenty of downtime; bathroom, shopping, and an eight-hour job are completely wireless, and all of them are pretty low-effort. I check this site pretty often to see new comments, but it’s nearly the only site I read. I use Youtube videos as background noise constantly, and play a lot of repetitive games, but I’ve gone completely wireless before and the result was 20+ hours sleeping multiple days in a row so it’s not like I’m costing myself productivity.

    …I feel I should mention, Fahrenheit 451 was talking about the same basic thing back in 1953.

  12. guy says:

    In my case I sort of have this problem, but I’ve realized it’s that I crave a certain level of stimulus that exceeds what one thing grants. So I put on a video and play a game simultaneously, and I sustain this basically indefinitely where I couldn’t focus on one for more than ten minutes.

    Also, for the repeated checking, I think the underlying reason is that things on the internet largely don’t have schedules. Comments and posts are irregular and staggered, so there could be something new and significant in the next five minutes.

  13. Kethran says:

    This reminded me a lot of the old video exurb1a made on youtube about Digital Hygiene and attention spans.

    It’s important and it always makes me reflect. Unfortunately, I never seem able to break away from the precise behavior they talk about.

  14. Nick Powell says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of programming recently and I keep finding myself tabbing over to reddit in the ~10 seconds it takes to build my project.

    It’s pretty bad

    1. Adam Faulconbridge says:

      I do this too – though my projects tend to be closer to the 1-5 minute range. I tried switching to another issue to work on while the first compiled/tested/whatever but then I found I focused on the secondary task for so long I forgot what the first one was about when I circled back to it!

      These days I watch Let’s Plays, and the “lower value” is better for me because I can ignore it for 10 minutes while I concentrate on something else, and then jump back in without missing much.

  15. galacticplumber says:

    I’d like to take a moment to point out that not all forms of interneting are subject to this problem. I made one of my major hobbies reading, and I can do it for hours sustained. All over the internet.

    Similarly I regularly throw in brief stints on youtube if I’m starting to hunger for something else, but leave just as quickly. The only sustained long periods of time on youtube involve the daily allotment of longer form content from subscriptions, and intentional music listening.

    What’s the important part? Too many people focus on only the consumption of content without stopping to think of how they’re going about it.

    To extend the consumption metaphor there’s hunting where you’re contemplating what you want, curating, or actively searching for something that meets a set of criteria. Every time you look over your subscriptions and decide to skip something you’re engaging this lightly. More thoroughly if you’re actively searching for criteria as opposed to essentially curating it.

    Yes there’s a difference. It’s called intention.

    The behavior being discussed is being fed. Having content presented to you which is consumed with no curation directly beforehand, no intentioned searching, and generally meant to fill time.

    You want to break this issue? Look for something you actively want to consume, then do it. That’s the key difference between the old behavior and the new.

  16. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I find that I tend to get caught in those kinds of loops, but only at specific times- usually when I’m trying to force myself to work on something.

    I’ve also seen evidence of the opposite of “Trivial wins out over weighty”- we’ve seen a lot of long-form content produced in the recent years, a lot of it quite in-depth an weighty. Trivial content might be more visible, since it’s easier to post on places like Facebook and Twitter, but I think that the kind of people who obsess over Twitter are probably the same kind of people who used to sit on the couch and change TV channels every two minutes. Meanwhile, there are people putting 3 hour academic lectures on Youtube and getting millions of view doing it.

  17. Abnaxis says:

    The argument didn’t really resonate with me. I let the video go to the end just to make sure exiting out early isn’t misinterpreted, even though I find it about as vapid and shallow as what CGP is decrying.

    One of my problems, is that I can never really think about something in the moment. I have good ideas, but only after I stew on a problem for hours, usually while I’m in what should be downtime, and work time is noticeably less productive. Additional to that, I find it obnoxious when any platform is desperately trying every psychological trick in the book to grab me, and as such avoid pretty much all social media unless someone needs it to get hold of me. The only online service I use that uses “attention-whoring” algorithms is YouTube, and even then it’s transactional–I search for a thing, find thing, watch thing, and leave.

    Attention seeking algorithms have always been irritating to me, even going back to grocery stores laid out to get you to buy more stuff instead of allowing you to find what you need and get out. I definitely see what CGP is getting at, but honestly I’ve never been able to understand how anybody finds it tolerable enough to stick around

  18. Wiseman says:

    I probably suffer from that. Much of my time in the last years was spent on social media. I quit Facebook because of that and because I hate it. Now I’m avoiding going to Reddit as often, but that website actually has something good going for it. It is a reunion of forums where you can get a lot of discussion going on any particular subject. I just need to stop checking the Final Fantasy subreddit, and I’ll be fine.

  19. Joshua says:

    I find myself craving stimulus just like anyone else, but am not really finding it on social media, which tends to be pretty shallow. Everytime I check Facebook I tend to end up disappointed, and I’ve never seen the appeal of Twitter which would be even more so.

  20. BenD says:

    A little theatrical training or experience makes that wizardry possible. Grey probably “blocked” his walk ahead of time, tested it for time, memorized his script (or at least the outline, but a 10-minute monologue from memory would be very reasonable, especially with travel through an environment serving as a memory aid) and practiced.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      He said on Hello Internet that his script writing involves a lot of reading his script aloud to make sure it sounds right … he probably memorized it while writing it, yes.

  21. Kriellya says:

    The video resonates with me in the ‘I see what is going on and agree with the concern’ way. Not in the ‘I see this happening to me’ way. But I think that’s what Grey is going for here. It’s not so much that he sees that he is being effected, he just sees that others are *definitely* effected, sees how hard it is for them to notice this and change it, and is thinking about how he might be effected. So he’s poking at the edges and encourages us to do the same, noticing where time is going and asking why.

    The ‘control’ systems are real and incredibly effective. It’s just applied Machine Learning with some of the best labelled data ever, which is the main requirement for effective ML. But they currently seem to struggle to be as effective with a subset of people, which is also fairly normal for modern ML algs. Some ‘subjects’ just don’t match their ‘expectations’ for behavior. I’d guess you, Grey, and I fall in this subset, as I don’t particularly feel like it’s nudging me much at all… But I can see where it *tries*, and I can see how strongly it can effect others.

    I know what levers it has to pull, am very careful about keeping close control over them when possible, and explicitly note them otherwise. I don’t let them just recommend things, I have lists of what I want to see that are controlled by me or other humans. I ignore or block ads, especially the ‘you might be interested in’ ads that litter the bottom of articles. I work to keep my ability to control what I see around when places try to remove it, and generally abandon platforms entirely when that becomes impossible. And I think that’s the ‘problem’ the ML Algs have with us. They try, and we notice and act, and at ‘best’ nothing changes. They read that as an ‘ineffective’ change, and go back to what was ‘working’, getting stuck in a local maxima. Critical thinking, knowledge, and awareness are part of why we feel insulated, though we are still interacting with the systems and, as Grey argues, still vulnerable to subtler systems that go unnoticed.

    Critical thinking really cuts to the core of a lot of issues, and I think that includes these ML systems. A lot has been done in recent years to erode that ability, both in terms of not teaching it and in convincing people to stop doing it. It’s also just harder to be informed, as companies hate talking about how their systems work, ML companies being no exception, even though you can find the core mechanisms for them in published academic articles from *years* ago, taught to almost any CS student who’s interested. There’s no mystery to how they work, or even in how they are being used. The only ‘mystery’ is in what the company is choosing as input and output.

    And if Grey looks like a wizard, it’s probably down to…
    A) He’s been thinking about this a *lot* over the years, and more over the past few months. So he may not have a script, but he may as well have, given how much he’s talked and thought about the topic.
    B) He’s good at using breaths and extensions where others would use ‘um’. It’s a public speaking skill that I’d guess he picked up as a teacher. I also wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he did some audio clean-up.
    and C) He may have, though I don’t promise this because his second channel is nominally more spontaneous, done *several* takes, or otherwise prepared to do the shot that he actually posted by timing out what he felt he wanted to say earlier.

    1. guy says:

      I think the algorithms work for all people some subset of the time. I’ve never seen anyone respond to complaints about them by saying it always works flawlessly for them, but I do see a mix of relevant and irrelevant content. Also, the ML algorithms serve the company, not the users, and some of their more maddening tendencies come from the distinction. Statistically, if you click on an ad but don’t buy the thing, you’re more likely to buy it if you see the same ad than you are to buy a random advertised product. Which is how sometimes you get an ad haunting you for years.

      Also for a while Google apparently decided I was a bilingual Japanese schoolgirl and kept giving me ads in Japanese or for translated Shoujo manga.

  22. Gordon Wrigley says:

    I should be working but instead I’m watching a CGP Grey video that was linked from a blog that came up in my RSS reader that I checked cause my you subscriptions had run dry…
    Also Linotypes are cool:

  23. Syal says:

    So… there were dogs at the beginning of the video, and then there weren’t any dogs at the end of the video. What happened to the dogs? Are these someone else’s dogs? But we don’t see anybody else. What’s their story? Did we stumble into a minute of a Homeward Bound story? Or maybe they’re still preparing for an adventure, and this is part of a dog training montage, like Dog Rocky.

    1. Or more importantly. What do the dogs eat?

  24. Dreadjaws says:

    It’s a bit of a mix for me. I have a powerful necessity to do something, but I’m in a constant state of indecision, so I can very well spend one hour doing nothing but thinking of what to do. Do I watch a movie, play a game, read a review, write a review? I can spend a good while browsing Facebook for something interesting (and of note: I only use FB to find news about stuff I care about, like gaming), while in some days I won’t even touch it. I think I check twitter like once a month at most. I certainly don’t use any website-specific apps.

    I’ve actually written a bunch of things, but only shared a few of them with people because I’m a little apprehensive. I kinda want people to read what I write, but I also don’t feel like I have much to contribute to what thousands others have said, and I feel like people will read something I wrote and feel like they wasted their time. That includes these comments, by the way. It’s very rare that I can write a short, concise comment. It’s usually several paragraphs of crap.

    I’ve even though of starting a webcomic, even writing a bunch of ideas, but I’ve had really bad luck with the two tablets I bought (one didn’t work, the other one worked badly, neither could be returned), so digital drawing is making me apprehensive for other reasons.

  25. Retsam says:

    Grey alludes to this with his comment about “writing vs. oral tradition”, but this debate really is ancient. Plato’s Phaedrus includes a hypothetical dialog between Thamus, King of Egypt, and Theuth, the god of writing:

    Those who acquire [writing] will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for
    it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.

    I don’t really mean this as a rebuttal to Grey’s point: just because it’s an old debate doesn’t mean it’s not an important one, or that there’s not merit to the criticisms. But it is a bit comforting to know that, despite the newness of the technology, we’ve been here before, as a species.

    I’m specifically pulling this from Technopoly by Neil Postman, which is my favorite book on this whole question of the role of technology in our lives and our culture[1].

    Postman is also known for Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is the origin”Orwell vs. Huxley” comic that you may have seen floating around. Amusing Ourselves to Death actually makes a pretty similar argument to what Grey is arguing here, written in 1985, before the widespread usage of the internet.

    I think the problem that Grey’s talking about here is real, but it’s a complex multifaceted issue; involving technology, neurology, as well as the values and trends of society and culture as a whole, as well as an individual’s own values, habits, and temperament.

    [1] Technically, I think this makes the above quotation a case of me quoting Postman quoting Plato quoting Socrates quoting Thamus.

  26. Carlos García says:

    Insert asinine assumptions on how things work in the present in society and film stereotypes and frequent messages like ifyou’renotallthetimeactivespeakingtoeverybodynotbeingliketherestthere’ssomethingwrongwithyoubehappyyou’renotdifferent and how all that stuff about go outside with people or you won’t be happy pushes into this kind of thing from someone who has never worked on anything about sociology or psychology.
    That said, I’ll watch the video after posting this. Why have I not seen his videos in ages? I’m subscribed to CGP Grey, am I not? I don’t remember unfollowing him neither any video I think could have made me unfollow. Last was one that seemed to be going to drag on for too long for the point and I left it in the middle.

    P.S. – I clicked send once, got sent to “duplicate detected”, pressed go back and my comment is in. Seems a single click sent it twice or a false positive?

    P.S. 2 – I wrote my comment before looking at anybody’s comment, so if there’s any applicability of it to another user’s comment in any way, be it parody, sarcastic finger pointing or a debatably valid argument is pure coincidence.

    1. Be aware that if you are subscribed and have the bell icon “checked” Youtubes algos may still not push a video into your notification feed if it thinks you are more interested in cat videos that particular week, if a video is in a non-trending “category” it may also not be pushed to your feed.

      Similar issue exists with Google search. I’ve turned off personalized search at Google, but I still feel a need to use incognito mode to ensure I get neutral search results. (not truly neutral as my ip is used to guesstimate country and present skewed results for that).
      If you ever see a journalist “Google” in anything other tan incognito mode then don’t trust them as their results will be biased towards their personal searches. You also have to close the incognito window(s) and open new ones if you want to search something else.

      No idea if Youtube are improving or have fixed the notification thing. But I still see videos uploaded and published by channels that for some reason I do not get notifications for, even though that is turned on for that channel. Really frustrating.

  27. MelTorefas says:

    For myself I only really use twitter, and even then I generally just check 1-2 times a day to stay up to date on stuff I find relevant. That said, I always have something going on in the background (usually Hearthstone or other gaming streams). There is definitely an element of “low effort content” to this, but it is also partly a survival mechanism.

    I have a very obsessive way of thinking (I am autistic), and if I do not have something going on to occupy some of my focus, I will churn away at thoughts in a very repetitive manner. Because I also have fibromyalgia, this ends up exhausting me and leaving me in a lot of pain. It is not an ideal way to function and I do try and take breaks to center myself and such, but it is the only thing I have found that works. :/

  28. ccesarano says:

    Reading the comments, I think there’s some misinterpretation of Grey’s idea, but I also think he kept what could be a longer conversation to a bare minimum to try and discuss something that is probably affecting most people, myself included. However, there are a lot of reasons why we might have these behaviors, or in what way they impact us.

    Grey says he doesn’t want to highlight how things were better before the new technology, and from there his point is to simply analyze how current technology is impacting us. Immediately he doesn’t wish to be alarmist, but wants to encourage his audience to pause a moment and ask why they’ve developed the habits they have. If I were to go back to a time before social media, I can see myself filling silence with headphones or a GameBoy. Listening to music while taking a walk rather than thinking, or playing GameBoy in the back seat of mom and dad’s car during a fifteen minute drive. When we got broadband Internet and I was in high school, I would turn on the TV and converse with people on AIM, many of whom I was frightened to fully interact with in person. Eventually it gave way to TV and online forums, broken up only by time spent working on my own attempts at online comics or anime music videos.

    This would later transform again in College, but for me, there has always been a battle of stimulus and escape from it. As an adult, I’ve largely minimized how I take in my stimuli, but I find your comment, Shamus, quite affecting.

    Last week I tried multiple times to write drafts for my own blog, but I was unable to do so. I couldn’t find the mindset and I couldn’t find the confidence to believe in the words I was typing. Unfortunately, the time I had available for writing was during work hours, and work can easily interrupt at any moment, disrupting the flow. I can write a good three or four paragraphs before my inbox chimes, and next thing I know two hours go by and the train of thought has left the station. Moreover, in order to fill short gaps of waiting during work, I’ve begun opening social media.

    I had to take a hiatus from Twitter because it was impacting my mood and part of why I lacked the confidence to write anything. So much of Twitter is confrontation and snark, and that can really impact someone emotionally. Add to that how much Twitter personally causes me to feel like a failure and an outsider, like the loser in school still trying to get the attention of the cool kids, and it can be a devastating force of depression. Since going on hiatus I’ve felt a marked improvement, but other distractions like Discord still prevailed on my desktop and could still contribute.

    I’m a victim of the process of updates Grey notes in his video, but at the same time I’m particularly susceptible because I am completely unsatisfied with where I am. For the most part I’m a complete nobody on the Internet, so where you have an active audience to your blog I am constantly convinced I’m blindly shouting in an empty room, hoping someone is listening. Just yesterday I posted a special video of my podcast to the channel and suddenly I’m down three subscribers. I try not to think too much on how fickle people on the Internet are, but it’s so absurd that one video that isn’t what you’d expect warrants abandoning your subscription. I want to put my voice out there and be heard, but I’m so bad at “the game” of popularity and acknowledgment that all of these services do is remind me of what a loser I am.

    Which is where sitting down and making something of my own becomes difficult. I’m going to give it another try shortly after this comment, but I think what Grey is discussing here is a good starting point, but there’s a lot to be said about personal psychology and how these manipulative designs can impact our self-worth. Again, it’s not even about social media specifically, as in high school I relied way too heavily on AIM for my conversations with people. I had a handful of friends I was comfortable with and a whole host of other kids that, during the day, I wanted to pretend I was able to see through their phony masquerade of a clique-based system. By the evening, though some of this persona still remained, it was replaced with a much more desperate and lonely individual wanting to be recognized.

    This did not stem from technology, but technology has certainly kept the wounds open rather than helping me find ways to heal them.

    I do want to take part in Twitter again, but for now I’m enjoying the hiatus. Unfortunately I still have some bad habits, and now Grey has me wondering if I should leave the music behind as I go for a walk after work today. Just use it to think a bit. I wonder if it says something that, these days, I’ve started to fill a lot of that quiet time with prayer.

    I like the idea of multiple showers a day. I like showers. They’re refreshing and you feel so clean after.

  29. Tizzy says:

    I’m sorry: doesn’t everyone listen to podcasts in the shower?

    What are you people doing in there?

  30. Grimwear says:

    I can’t say I have much of a problem with what’s talked about. But I’m also not on social media in any way, shape, or form. Heck the only part of twitter I “enjoy” is seeing what Shamus has said at the top of his blog (also I once tried to see all the tweets and replies section for him on twitter itself but it doesn’t let you see unless you’re logged in so…thanks twitter for giving me another reason to not explore).

    My biggest problem is that whenever I’m doing stuff I put on a backlog of LRR streams which usually run for 3 hours at a time in the background and then do other things. It makes it so I’m used to multitasking my hobbies to get “more” out of them rather than concentrating on one. This has backfired in that I postpone playing backlog games that are super story or immersion focused so that I can maintain this multitasking. For instance I’ve been meaning to play SOMA for a long time but instead I played through Subnautica because there’s a lot of nothing where I’m just traveling or collecting mats so I have no qualms with putting on a stream in the background.

  31. stratigo says:

    getting rid of ah and um is usually the result of practice. It takes a bit of speech practice, but almost anyone can do it. Usually people who have to do regular public speaking eliminate those sort of disfluent articles.

  32. Duoae says:

    I don’t think I fall into that trap either. However, I do wonder whether that’s due to my age, education level and job.

    I didn’t grow up with the Internet and, during my schooling, researching was a long and tedious process compared to today.

    Similarly, my job still requires lots of contemplating data sets, reading patents, scientific papers and other information sources that are not always computer searchable.

    I do visit Facebook multiple times in an evening and sometimes at lunch but that’s only increased because, for some reason, I started getting a lot of links to long-form content on news sites. I also tend to do it when I’m bored but am too tired to watch a TV series, play a game or read a book.

    The books I read (not that I’m as voracious as I used to be) tend to be series – thus quite long. I also read a fair amount of scientifically orientated books that require a lot of thought and analysis.

    So, if I’m honest, i think I’m a product of my time and that younger people would be more likely to have a different behaviour.

  33. Nick says:

    I do often end up in a facebook-quora-imgur-youtube loop. Other sites sometimes get thrown in at random, this one included.

  34. Zaxares says:

    Heh, I did switch my attention away from his video a few times while watching it, although that’s mainly because I read the internet to fill empty moments at my computer when I’m waiting for a level to load, or a friend to reply, or a file to finish downloading. As such, these sorts of things are secondary tier importance, while whatever it is I’m doing that’s of primary importance I can usually focus on with laser-like precision until it’s finished.

    I’m also quite good at being alone with my thoughts. As an introvert, I’m already used to needing my own space, and as a teenager, I once went to a camp where each of us was directed to go off into the woods and pitch our tent at least 500m away from the next person. We were to spend the day and night all by ourselves, and we would discuss our experience when we regrouped for breakfast tomorrow. At the meeting, a LOT of people said it was the most horrible experience they ever had, the boredom and loneliness was crushing. But for me, I went through the experience completely fine. I spent my time watching the birds and insects in the glade around me, and when I got bored, I lay down in my tent and mentally ran through some of my favourite stories and movies (which I watched often enough that I can recite the entire script verbatim. XD) I might not have been able to keep this up for days, but solitude or being alone with my thoughts does not scare me, perhaps because I am largely at peace with who I am and so moments of introspection do not alarm me.

  35. The video is impressive. And there is two obvious ways (to me) this could have been made.

    He rehearsed “the script” which was roughly 10 minutes long, the walking speed can be subtly changed to walk faster/slower, and it all was done in a single take.

    The dogs at the start was impressive. He either knew the dog owner and arranged it, or he knew when the dog owner and dogs would pass by (Grey may often walk here and know the routines/area for example).

    However I believe the the walk was mostly a full take visually and for soundfx. A the very start there is a change in audio. This could have been a mic source switch (from camera/phone to a lapel mic or similar), it’s hard to guess.
    And at one point during the walk a plane is heard coming closer (or car on a highway?) but the sound abruptly stops at the peak of loudness which is odd.

    It’s possible a non-voice walk was made or that multiple walks was made wit the footage mostly untouched but the audio well edited.

    Timing a script and footage is not that difficult either. I did a GTA video with a brief “guided tour” of the clubs just to get some original high quality footage to test DaVinci Resolve for editing video. The audio was recorded in Audacity, I read from a script, I did rarely adlib anything (i.e. I stayed “on script”), after I had edited out pauses/silence and re-takes of a sentence (which I often did at once, so it was all a single take so the voice and levels are consistent). The script ran a little over the pre-edited video length and the edited down audio ran a little short vs the video. So getting withing the same ballpark is not that hard.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not dissing this. The video was very well made. The change in audio near the start (from a thinner to a more muffled sound as if the mic was now closer) stuck out for me, as did the suddenly silenced airplane noise. The intercut of the school or cafe or whatever was a tad jarring. It’s a shame “the walk” wasn’t in a place where he could have walked from a park into a library and then out again to match the narration at that point. But location is everything and it might be hard to hunt this down, a park near a library would probably have a lot more people nearby.

    The video in general was well down, camera pans/turns at certain points of the narration as if underlining how our attention is pulled away from looking at the path we’re on, or in the reverse, of the path prevents us from lingering our eyes on the surroundings for too long.

    But it was a really well made “Walk with me” video.

    Just as an example of another “walk with me” where there is a “10 minute” single take is Linus of Linus Tech Tips in the video I have some things to say – Core i9 & X299, it starts at the 3:42 mark.
    The entire walk is without cuts (as it is a single take), obviously he’s rehearsed a script. But I’m guessing the end location was unplanned, and with Linus in frame the whole time you’d notice any jump masked by intercut footage.

    Doing a “single cut” so that the video trip ends up where you started or at a specific locations and the script and delivery of said script line up perfectly is very difficult, and usually you’d end up with multiple tries of you aren’t too experienced doing it. Now Linus has lots of experience reading a prompter (and and pacing the prompter himself) and is probably good at remembering a script too, as seen in some on-location coverage he’s done where they aren’t using (or so I assume) a prompter (never know though). Same with Steve at Gamers Nexus, lots of experience in “delivery”.

    I really liked Grey’s video. And the ending was both jarring and relaxing at the same time. I ended up jumping forward and back several times though. First to check if the rest really was what I thought it was, and then back to play it out (I’m weird).

    The editing is really good but could have been “smoother” IMO.
    But the artistic side of it was pretty much flawless, and the audio was super clear which made it enjoyable to listen too.
    Thanks for linking that video Shamus.

  36. Redrock says:

    He most surely does have a script in front of him. Maybe just core phrases and hints, but there is definitely something. I suspect he did measure the time itvtakes to complete this route and planned his speech accordingly. But he is good. He’s filling the pauses he needs to collect his thoughts with actual silent pauses and sighs instead of umms and uhhs, which is basically broadcasting technique. Very, very nice.

  37. evileeyore says:

    I check Twitter once or twice a day. Sometimes my phone dies because I forget about it for a couple of days. I visit Facebook once a week for family updates I can’t get elsewhere, and then leave rather than sifting through the remaining noise. While I recognize the behaviors he’s talking about, they don’t seem to be a problem for me

    I check Twitter maybe once a week to once every two weeks. Twitter isn’t something I enjoy (lack of longform discussion). Facebook delivers emails to me telling me when the handful of important people in my life have posted to Facebook. I only watched the video in order to be able to comment on it.

    I don’t suffer as Grey worries this generation (indeed as he worries he himself) is suffering. I read plenty of books. They fill my ‘quiet reflection time”…

    And there is the rub. This another ‘old man yells at clouds’. Grey thinks that listening to podcasts in the shower is worrisome? What about people who listen to music in the shower? Radios in bathrooms go back to the 80’s. Watching tv in the bath. Reading books on the bus. Listening to music 24-7-365.

    Granted, it seems like a new thing. It seems like an issue that the millennial generation is constantly on their phone, constantly interfacing with ‘distraction devices’, but as long as they are productive (and many are) as long as they are advancing thought and critical reasoning (and many are), so what?

    Let the clouds be old man.

    I’m curious how many people find themselves in the same situation as Grey. Is your day wall-to-wall with low-effort content, to the point where you never have a moment of quiet with your own thoughts? Do you observe this behavior in others around you?

    Nope. I prefer longform things. Books, forums (which are dying out), etc. I don’t even watch that much tv or watch many movies. 5-10 hours per week tops.

    No, my free time absorbing activities are books and games.

    Is Grey a wizard?

    What? Because he can rehearse a well written monologue and time how long a given nature path will take to walk?

    I once rehearsed a 15 minute Shakespeare monologue, on the way to the audition, while jogging. Granted, I’d read the play in the last 5-10 years and wrote out the monologue* on the cue cards I was reading while jogging… but still.

    * Which was probably the key. I’m really good at remembering things I hand write.

    1. Wolf says:

      Normally “Old man yells at cloud” takedowns are made from a perceived position of greater understanding for the new way of things. You on the other hand seem to be arguing with condescending assuredness, all the while attesting utter desinterest in the matter discussed.
      And that makes me read your entire post as insulting the guy.

      Devaluing Shamus’ praise for Grey by talking about the ease with which you could have done the same, certainly doesn’t rectify that impression.

  38. allfreight says:

    Greatest revelation from this article: Shamus takes two showers a day! In the great “Morning shower” vs “Evening shower” debate Shamus says “Why not both?”

    In case anyone is interested, Grey “defends” this video in this weeks Cortex podcast or

    1. drunken buffoon says:

      I’d be interested to hear more on the topic but I don’t really want to listen to an entire podcast. If you happen to have a rough estimate on when relevant part begins I would appreciate it.

  39. pendantic idiot says:

    I just call it monkey brain.

    Good job upping your engagement metric by publishing an article that makes want to comment.

    I wrote some long ass diatribe about my personal experience but who gives a shit.

  40. LCF says:

    The Internet is for computers*, not phones. Thus, I shan’t get distraught by my cellular telephone, save for the occasional SMS or call.
    I read a lot of sites and web-logs. I used to read paper-books by the tonne as a child, before I had a computer; and as a teenager then young adult, I enjoyed long, longish commutes with a good book. Things have changed so, I have too short a daily travel to get it from the bag and get myself into the story. First world problem, I know.
    Last but not least, I zone out. I daydream. I space away. Can’t help it. Automatic, deep-brain-started thinking and introspecting. Well, I’ll be honest, I’m just as likely as dreaming ’bout changing the past with time-travel than anything else. I never said I was being productive.

    “you can immediately understand why spikes and open pits are bad and coins are good”
    I know a few left-wing metalheads who’d be confused by this sentence.

    *Porn. The Internet is for porn.

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