You may have heard the saying that “you are what you eat“. Well, that applies to your online life as well.

Your attention is an asset. It is worth something. A lot of technology platforms including Google, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are free. But are they really?

Every character you type in a search engine, every map you download for directions, every picture or update you share on social media, every phrase you utter to Alexa – helps to feed the system with information and fine tune its operation in the future. That data is then analyzed, dissected and sold to advertisers and others who use it to target us back with more ads, opinions and information. No wonder it can feel like overwhelm!

In fact, this is just the beginning. With the advent of enhanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) we “users” are providing the raw material (data) that helps online systems function currently and accurately. In essence, you are giving up your attention and something even more precious, your time. It is up to you to determine if what you get back from that investment is worth it.

Often, it is – who doesn’t like asking Google a question and getting an answer back immediately? Also, it can feel good to see what family and friends are up to via social media – and to easily share your own photos and stories with others. On the other hand, you can sometimes fall down an online rabbit hole and discover you have spent three hours on something that you really didn’t plan to do.

Here are some tools to help you decide how much you want to give – and receive – from the online world:

Google Alerts

Instead of searching daily for what’s new, try setting up a personalized alert that will tell you when there is a story pertaining to a person (you can “google alert” your own name) or topic that you want to follow. Here is how:

  • Go to Google Alerts
    • In the box at the top, enter a topic you want to follow. By selecting the “show options” drop down arrow, you can further fine tune what you want to see.
  • Click Create Alert. You’ll get emails whenever google finds matching search results
RSS Feeds

Don’t worry – the acronym RSS (Really Simple Syndication) basically means creating your own online newspaper. Instead of just randomly clicking through news stories you find browsing, set up your own information feed that tracks and sends stories only from sources you have previously identified that you want to hear from. A good place to start is with a free online RSS service like Feedly.

Focus Tools

Lastly, if you find your attention being hijacked by assorted emails, pop-ups, notifications and other “online noise”, there are a number of free apps that block distractions for a set time (you decide how long) so you can focus on what you need to get done at the computer. Some options are:

As with any online recommendations, your mileage may vary so test these out or explore on your own. The key goal is to realize that you – and your attention – are important. Make sure you are using it in a way that helps, not hinders, your goals.