The Breaking of the Modern Mind: The Curse of the Attention Economy

Marvin Liao
2 min readSep 7, 2022


There are many accusations that we are getting dumber. I actually think it’s more that our attention spans are shorter and thus our ability to do deep thinking and focused work is declining. Which maybe is another way of saying maybe we are getting dumber.

The internet, the smartphone & social media have overall been a boon. We have access to unfathomable amounts of information from all over the world. But like all technology, it’s a blade that cuts both ways. We have too much information and it’s easy to get distracted. In fact during small breaks we are drawn to our phones to fight boredom. Yet boredom also allows your brain to ponder things it would otherwise not think about.

I remember in the 1999 and even early 2000s I would just spend hours reading a book. I’d finish 3–5 books in a weekend. I find it hard to do now. Maybe it’s due to old age or just being a parent. Or a busier work schedule and duties. But I don’t think that’s it. I find my attention span being so much shorter now that I can’t focus for more than 20–30 minutes straight.

Actually according to an old study by Microsoft back in 2015 actually, “people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.”


I can’t imagine how much worse it is now, 7 years later with more social media, more devices and just so much more of everything.

This is a pretty big issue if you want to thrive. Especially in a world of work that requires deep work and clear thinking. This is kind of the only work that matters now. We need more thinking, not less. In fact, I worry about this upcoming younger generation like my daughters that does not know anything different. It’s digital screen time from a young age.

In fact, French philosopher Pascal Blaise so wisely wrote in the 1600s, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

So how am I combating this? It’s through a few specific tactics and activities that have massive benefits in the rest of my life. It’s stuff you should be doing anyways, but it’s another good reason to do more of the following:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Time away from screens Ie. Read more books
  • More writing but through use pen and paper not typing
  • Time in nature

It’s just a start but I know that if I don’t try to conquer this issue now, it will be a much harder habit to build as my brain ages.



Marvin Liao

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything!