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Help, the Internet Is Distracting Me!

Isn’t it nice that when you watch a video, YouTube helpfully curates a list of other videos you might be interested in, each just a click away? This little feature is partly why it’s so easy to come with the intention of looking up one particular video and leave having watched ten.

InternetOf course, this isn’t an accident. YouTube is happy to make it as easy as possible to get hooked into impulsively clicking one video after the next. If you watch ten videos instead of one, that’s more views and more ad revenue for YouTube.

Nor is this unique to YouTube. Notice how you can keep scrolling and never get to the bottom of your Facebook feed? What about all those convenient suggestions of “related stories” when you go to read the news online? Most of the websites we use are intentionally designed to increase the chances that when we pop in for a visit, we stay longer than we’d meant to.

The businesses that run these websites are only profitable as long as they can grab our attention. And as more and more websites compete in the attention grabbing game, the art and science of grabbing people’s attention becomes more sophisticated.

So where do people with ADHD fit into all of this? I’d suggest that, on average, we’re more susceptible to having our attention grabbed.

Sure, everyone has their vulnerable moments when they’re reading the news and they see a link titled “Related news: you won’t believe what this heartwarming kitten does when it meets a duck for the first time.”

In general, though, I think people with ADHD are a little more likely to click on to the next Netflix episode or keep scrolling through the Twitter feed that never ends. And we’re a little less likely to have that little voice in our head say “don’t you have other things you need to do?” or “how long have you been on the internet already?” We’re not renowned for our ability to exercise control over our attention, which makes it that much easy for savvy marketers and user interface designers to direct the flow of our attention instead.

One way to place bounds on the tendency to impulsively click on to the next thing is to set quotas for yourself. Go in with a set number of Netflix episodes you’re going to watch or a fixed amount of time you’re allowed to spend on Facebook. If you don’t trust yourself to remember to enforce your quota, set a timer to do the job for you.

I’m not someone who believes that all time on social media is wasted. In many ways, the internet really has made us more interconnected and aware of the world around us. Still, these technologies can turn into a big attention suck. So as you wander across all these platforms that are designed to pull you in, consider keeping an eye out for the times when you start to fall into the cycle of clicking forward and losing track of time – and consider setting quotas for yourself to nip the infinite suggestions of related content in the bud.

And finally, let me suggest that if you enjoyed this post on having ADHD in the internet age, you might also enjoy this other one here about 5 reasons the future is looking good for people with ADHD.

Image: Flickr/Lourdes Muñoz Santamaria

Help, the Internet Is Distracting Me!

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). Help, the Internet Is Distracting Me!. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 May 2018
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