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Day 3

A Guide to Ad Blockers (Part 1)

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We've come to accept advertising as a necessary evil of the Internet in 2018. Online ads pop-up, they slide in, they flash, they make sound, they autostart – anything to grab our attention.

Most would agree, a web page without advertising is far more pleasant than a page with advertising. Unfortunately, content creators need to eat.

Content creators - journalists, YouTubers, website developers – rely on advertising to make money from their creations and advertising helps with that. It allows the rest of us to enjoy their amazing creations at zero financial cost.

But let’s recognise zero financial cost does not mean zero cost. Let me explain.

Assume there are people who live with online advertising and never purchase anything – they never pay for content they view nor for the products being advertised – so web content really is zero financial cost to them, no money leaves their bank account. But like a great mafia movie, people will pay one way or another. In this story, people pay with their time and attention. This is not a trivial payment, after all time is something we cannot recover, and attention fills headspace and modifies our future intentions.

Paying with your attention

How many times have you sat down at your computer to send a simple email, and a couple hours later you realise you still haven’t sent it? What went wrong?

You were distracted, your attention wandered.

It’s easy to see how distracting adverts causes our attention to wander. An advert pops up, we click it, we get taken to another page and forget what we were originally doing.

However another, perhaps more distressing, result can occur when we become distracted.

Whether we're working or surfing we often drift into flow state; a state of being completely immersed on the task at hand. Regularly achieving flow state can contribute to greater levels of happiness. Unfortunately distracting adverts are not conducive to achieving flow. They disturb us from the immediate task at hand, interrupting our flow. Literally preventing us from being as happy as we could otherwise be.

Paying with your time

Here are a couple examples when you pay with your time.

The most obvious time payment occurs when an advertiser uses a timed-paywall. Timed-paywalls require you to watch an advert before accessing their content. This could be anywhere between 5 seconds to 5 minutes.

Secondly, for a website or application to display advertising on your device you’re required to download a set of files. This happens automatically in the background, you’ll never notice this. In advertising’s most simple form, these files are simply text or an image. But more likely it's a collection of files that will be used to gather information about you and your device so the advertising network can display ads with greater relevancy – ads more likely to encourage you to buy.

Downloading these files takes time, not much time, less than a second. However, 100 milliseconds for every page load over the course of a day, a month, a year really adds up.

Strategies

Below are a number of strategies used to reduce the number of adverts you are exposed to.

Install ad blockers

The simplest and quickest strategy for taking control of your time and attention is to install an ad blocker in your browser. The most popular browsers allow users to install browser extensions: small applications that run inside your browser able to interact with your browsing experience.

Some popular ad blockers are...

  1. UBlock Origin (Chrome, Firefox, Opera)
  2. AdBlock Plus
  3. AdGuard – downloadable as an app on your PC or Mac

Install an anti-adblock diffuser

Whilst ad-blockers are extremely helpful they do have a flaw. Website publishers are able to recognise if you’re using an ad-blocker and prevent the webpage content from loading, meaning you won’t see ads (great) but you won’t see the page content either (bad). These websites often display a prompt asking you to disable the ad-blocker for their website. Fortunately there are another set of tools we can add to our arsenal, anti-adblock diffuser.

Anti-adblock diffusers need to be used in conjunction with your ad blocker.

Use a different browser

In December 2018 the world's most popular browser is Google Chrome. In December 2018 the world's biggest advertising platform is Google. Whilst Google Chrome is a fairly open platform (users can install an array of extensions), Google are in no way incentivised to clamp down on advertising out the box.

Fortunately there are browser makers who care deeply about the effects of advertising on our attention.

Use reading mode

Browsers such as Safari and Firefox have a 'reading mode' built into their browsers. With one click you can turn a distraction ridden screen into a clean and simple webpage focused on the important content.

Author

Fraser Deans

Today's article was written by Fraser Deans. Fraser is a Digital Product Designer and founder of The Wholesome Technology Company, focused on practicing and spreading ideas for living well with technology.

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