06.17.19 | Reclaim Your Attention!

It was meant to be just an experiment of sorts. The idea was to set the stage for our discussion on the subject of solitude (MM 4/1/19) by observing total silence during the twenty minute lunch preceding the session. Some participants found the experience uncomfortable, even markedly so. Separate research bears this out i.e. the difficulty many have spending time in their heads. One study found that some people would rather be electrically shocked than be left alone with their thoughts.

One interpretation: our minds are built to engage the world. Fair enough. Few have the interior landscape to support some sort of meaningful life without external engagement. The question then becomes engagement with what. It's almost a cliche' to say so but the simple truth is what we pay attention to, and how we pay attention, shapes our reality.

From this comes the notion of attention as experience. We'd once discussed the sense of awe and timelessness described in the angler's account of fishing as meditation, almost prayer, that serves to concentrate the mind while at the same time liberating it (MM 1/22/18). Recall, perhaps, your similar life experiences e.g. mastering a skill, watching the clouds as a young child, being engrossed in a story -- the words painting a picture rather than imparting raw information. Time itself seemed to stand still as the reverie of the moment created a . . . . hey, over there, a squirrel ! . . . . made you look!!

Our discussion will center around this made-you-look world -- the so-called attention economy where one's attention is but a limited resource to be mined by others. Per our (first) focus article (click here: Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world), our attention is at the center of an informational ecosystem in which social media has been "weaponized" bent on diverting us from interacting with the world in any kind of natural exploratory way.

So how is it we have entered into this soul-sucking Faustian bargain, trading parts of our limited attention span for the next shiny thing? It's because we humans are flawed, or at least vulnerable. The co-founder of Facebook came clean -- some of the finest minds in psychology and brain science have applied the miracle of dopamine as the secret sauce to make addicts of us all. The "fun transmitter" hijacks the brain to create a "compulsion loop."

But we're smarter than that, right? Let's explore the degree to which our web-connected devices have allowed "news" to occupy center stage in our subjective sense of reality. Maybe read our (second) focus article (How the news took over reality) and replace the Old Town Bar with the club and see if you've experienced a similar reaction i.e. the chill that comes over when warm, cozy human interaction is suddenly interrupted and diverted by some net-screaming factoid ("did you hear what Trump just tweeted!?!).

Recognize it for what it is -- much of the so-called news has become little more than that shiny thing, designed to keep you hooked, reflex over reflection, that has little to do with maintaining an informed electorate. It's not a matter of missing the forest for the trees as it is missing the trees for the weeds.

Your attention deserves better.

Steve SmithComment