Social Media Attention Deficit Disorder

In the short span of time that I had sat down to write this blog post, I had opened 21 new tabs, 10 new windows, and 6 applications.  I checked my bank account twice.  I looked at pictures from my holiday weekend trip 3 times.  I clicked on 4 online ads and 5 YouTube videos.  I checked my Facebook 6 times and my Twitter 8.   I started reading an article, saw an interesting link, clicked on it.  Saw another interesting link on that new page, clicked on it.  I now have 100 windows open and I can’t even remember what I came here to do.  My poor computer probably hates me for overworking it and I will likely be seeing the dreaded Mac beach ball of death any minute now. I’ve got it and I’ve got it bad: Social Media Attention Deficit Disorder, otherwise known as “SMADD.”  My guess is that most of you suffer from it too.  Balancing multiple social media platforms on top of everyday tasks can create anxiety leading to attention deficit and information overload.

We are taking in an abundance of information like never before.  According to a recent University of California, San Diego, study, it is estimated that that the average American consumes 34 GB worth of content a day, including 100,000 words of information via multiple channels: the Web, TV, text messaging, radio, video games and more.

As a recent Mashable post states, this increase in access to information has numerous benefits, however, learning to live and work skillfully amidst an active social media lifestyle is an art in itself — one that will be increasingly challenging in the years ahead. Without proper social media management skills, our attention may get stretched too thin resulting in decreased productivity.  It’s easy for “ADD” to kick in when we are multitasking and balancing several different social applications at once.  To effectively and regularly stay on top of Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, Google Buzz, MySpace, RSS feeds, Reddit and Digg updates, on top of managing a work, family and real-world social life, is a challenge that few people can master.  Just the very thought of doing so makes me exhausted. It’s all about balance and focus without which participation across multiple social media platforms becomes overwhelming and counter productive.

Mashable contributor Soren Gordhamer outlines 4 guidelines to stay sane and focused amidst an active social media lifestyle:

1. Balance the internal before taking action in the external.

While the amount of our attention we give to social media is important, so is the quality of that attention. It is hard to give our full attention to anything when internally we are feeling overwhelmed and unfocused. Our internal state gets mirrored in the external world, so even though we may spend a lot of time on social media sites, it may not be spent productively.  Taking time to settle your mind when you notice yourself off balance or overwhelmed can shift the state of your internal world and help maximize your time on social media.

2. Do One Thing at a Time

Resist the tendency to multitask.  A recent study at Stanford found that the more people multitask, the worse they become at it.  They found that people who were regularly faced with several streams of electronic information did not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who preferred to complete one task at a time.  Instead of checking Twitter or Facebook while also talking on your cell, finish one first, then do the next.

3. Invite Instead of Force

Trying too hard, whether it be collecting more followers on Twitter, or increase sales of a product, creates tension that impedes our work.  We get off focus and start valuing the wrong end results.  We cannot force these things, but we can invite them through a balanced, steady effort.

4. Know Where Your Attention is Most Needed

If we are not careful in the age of social media, our attention can get bounced around from calls, to texts to tweets, such that by the end of the day we are exhausted.  Attention to the present moment, is lost.  We spent our day “chasing,” letting others determine our focus, not choosing for ourselves where to put our attention and attending to the tasks most important to us.  It’s important to determine where attention is most needed and then direct it there.

Undoubtedly, there are advantages to the fact that we have access to such an abundance of information.  Such outlets allow us to learn and gain insights in ways we never before imagined.  In the coming years, the amount of information at our disposal is only going to increase.  The challenge will be to stay connected and maximize the benefits of social media while remaining focused and attentive.   I struggle with this everyday and find myself walking a fine line between efficient multitasking and anxiety-ridden juggling.  As pointed out in Mashable, the idea behind Web 2.0 and social networking is that it is supposed to augment and facilitate that which you do in your daily life, not evolve into a time-sink. When balanced properly with life “offline,” social media need not lead to ADD, but rather an exciting way to connect and gain/share knowledge.


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2 responses to “Social Media Attention Deficit Disorder”

  1. kellybriefworld says :

    As an IT consultant I am fully aware that IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. Palo Alto networks came up with a webinar,, that will explore the issues surrounding social media in the workplace as a follow-up to a very popular whitepaper you may have already read, It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company’s greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server’s safety and security.

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