Bzzz. Your phone vibrates. Naturally, you pick it up. It’s a notification that x mentioned you on y social media platform. Since the phone’s already in your hand and you have to leave for z soon anyway, you open the app. You indulge a bit.
The scrolling text and images light up your brain. Words about the weekend, selfies, and travel photos. You receive a dopamine hit as the blocks on the screen tick by like dashes on a long road. A road to nowhere.
You come to after drifting off with your device. You’re running a bit late. You clamor to your vehicle, slightly stressed now, ensuring you have everything with you. You turn on the radio as you pull out and head down the street.
A song that falls somewhere in the latest Top 40 list is playing. You don’t love it, or even genuinely enjoy the ideas expressed in its lyrics, but you leave it on anyway. It’s a generic ballad of someone undergoing and escaping a toxic relationship. It’s sort of catchy, you guess.
You pass billboards flashing images of food items that exclaim “yum,” “tasty,” and “fast,” all agitating your inner itch for something sweet or salty. You wonder if you could squeeze in something, even though you brought an apple and a banana from home. What could it hurt, right?
Further down the road, you are surrounded by fashion storefronts. The impressive-looking top and pants subtly shout “wow,” “fresh,” and “sexy.” You take note of the outfit and wonder what reactions it might bring next weekend out at the bar/club. Maybe you’ll come back later.
You continue on your way. Whether you like or not, you have partially consumed the ideas laid out before you. Either physically or psychologically. You don’t hear the celebrations of the hefty companies and sponsors that have successfully delivered them to you. You just move on to the next part of your day.
Now let me be clear.
This is obviously a very crude and dreary portrayal of someone navigating the start of their day. As someone living in metropolitan Canada, my own perspective is not as outright pessimistic as in the scenario I described, and hopefully yours is not either. However, unless you carefully consider these events when they occur, the media and advertisements to which we are exposed are significant. They will more or less make certain impressions on our daily experiences.
During your morning commute or at many other places, there are elements that you simply cannot control. As in the scenario I described, you could never expect to affect what billboards and storefronts appear along the street. At most, you could try to ignore them, and perhaps that’s enough. However, it’s worth noting that other elements are very much in your control.
Engaging in social media the moment you receive a notification. Playing music in your vehicle to fill the silence. Spending the few minutes you have to spare, or while waiting in line or for the bus, on your phone. These are all actions taken by choice. And in the age of information, companies and technology have developed more avenues to fill these segments of time with content than ever before.
I am not saying corporations are inherently bad or trying to cause you harm. It is simply a fact that within many of them, there are groups of people working to design and engineer mechanisms by which to capture and retain your attention. However, you have to remember that you are an individual, with unique life experiences and with your own values and beliefs. In a free society, you make your own choices concerning where to aim your attention.
Yet, the accumulation of all these groups, campaigns, and products result in a lot of noise. It wants to pull you in many different directions at once, and it may not align with your values and beliefs. When the noise continues to creep in and build, it can be overwhelming for your mind and your body–even in ways that are not immediately apparent. It challenges our discipline and increases stress, and it can make it harder to put your best foot forward.
Take a hard look at your habits. There are indulgences that reduce stress in the short-term, and factors like FOMO (fear of missing out) can be strong. But there is power in just saying “no.” Before you flood your attention with social media, or leave on that music you don’t love, criticize that content. Criticize why you are making that choice, and what bringing that content into your life will do to you.
If you take away anything from these ideas, let it be this consideration. Consider taking a moment. Consider giving your mind a break. Consider listening to the silence for a little while. You may just be surprised by the clarity you find. It can be daunting to face yourself in some moments, but learning more about why you do what you do can only bring more agency and intentionality into your life.
Give it a try.