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Toward Conscious Media Usage

Many of us spend too much time on social media (check your screen time and reflect). 

If you have kids, especially teenagers, you know what I'm talking about. 

The underlying problem is that algorithms are fighting for our awareness and are getting better and better at it with an increased amount of data at their disposal. 

I see this trend to continue and even worsen over time. 

If you have access to Netflix I encourage you to watch the documentary "The  Social Dilemma" (from Jeff Orlowski), which tries to increase awareness for this topic by interviewing tech leaders from the major social media platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ...). 

If you are reading this and are a tech leader or engineer, this should be nothing new or surprising. In fact, looking back at the many years I spent at Zalando or Yahoo we always were investigating new ideas and algorithms to "increase engagement" of our users. Indeed, most tech products are focusing on user engagement and growth as primary KPIs. 

The problem is complex and has many angles.

For example, creating more responsible machine learning and AI algorithms is a topic I'm very passionate about. There is lots of room for innovation. 

Here I would like to focus on the concrete aspects that are affecting our leadership capabilities, but also our personal lives

A leader who is not actively listening and paying attention in a conversation or is distracted all the time in meetings through Smartphone or laptop usage is not effective. 

Smartphones and related media applications can be a great tool, if used consciously and with a certain level of present awareness. 

For example, there is nothing wrong when reading a book (electronically), absorbing new ideas and information, and enjoying this time with yourself. 

The danger lies mostly in all kind of (social media or push) notifications, email, and text messages. They try to grab your attention and disconnect you from the present moment. 

You are no longer present, but are engaging now in thought activity triggered by such an event. 

Imagine you're in a meeting with a co-worker, who is actively sharing a story, while your smartphone alerts you with a push notification that states that someone posted a new picture on Instagram. 

Or you have dinner with your family, while the your Smartphone sits with you at the table and distracts you not only from eating, but also from having a fun conversation with your family and enjoying what you eat. 

You probably know these situations very well. 

I'm not arguing to get rid of our technology. 

If you use your smartphone (or other electronic) devices like a "Swiss Army knife", then when you need it, very consciously to fulfill a specific need, the tool becomes indeed very helpful.

Mindfulness can help us to raise our levels of present awareness, and therefore be a first step toward more conscious usage of media. 

Think about "push notifications" as (external) thoughts. You observe those thoughts, and let them pass by (like a cloud) without identifying with them. 

With our advancements in technology in the past decades we were able to enable our thoughts to externalize and to easily spread with the speed of light all around the globe with no limitations on space and time. 

Furthermore, another challenge is that many "external thoughts" are more persistent, as they are physically stored and can be accessed via URL or a message. For example, you notice a push notification (external thought) and become aware of it. Possibly a thought of curiosity in your mind arises. Then you click on the notification and now you can access the source of it, somewhere stored in the Internet. This might be a picture or some article etc. As the content is persistently stored, it can be referenced again in the future. If something is just a thought in your mind you simply forget about it and it is gone. 

However, the same mechanisms of mindfulness training and meditation apply here and can be helpful toward a more conscious usage of media. 

By training the "muscle of your mind" you become more aware of your daily interaction with media and smartphones. 

For many obvious reasons, you can use this same technology to your advantage as well in order to assist you to limit the number of these "external thoughts and noises". Try to get rid of unnecessary notifications in your Smartphone settings, and use screen time to become aware of your actual device and social media usage and start using it as a KPI, which you want to actively track over time. 

Given the importance of this topic not just for ourselves, but also for our kids, I have created a new topic "Conscious Media Usage" on the Mindful Tech Leaders platform to share ideas, best practices, and suggestions on how we can better deal with these increasing challenges. 

How are social media and electronic device usage affecting you or your family? 

Any tips and best practices or insights you can share? 

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