humble ramble. Vol 4: attention
There is arguably no terrain more contested and lucrative today than the struggle for our collective attention. It is the most valuable commodity on the planet. Rare earth metals? Nope, your attention.
Attention is the precursor to the most human acts we are capable of, in this sense, it is the source material of revolution. As long as we are doom-scrolling, we are not present and in right relationship with others, we are not tending to our own wellbeing, we are not conscious of what is missing. As long as we are subscribing to the mainstream narrative of binary, oppositional perspectives and calamity, we are not seeing one another as whole human beings beyond the arbitrary and outdated identities we have been put into by those who would capitalize from our antagonistic tribalism.
A week ago I deleted Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc from my phone and I have made a point of not reading the news from mainstream sources. I turned off notifications for slack, email, and messaging apps (sorry if I missed someone), only checking in when I intentionally chose to do so. I felt like I had been allowing my attention and my emotions to be hacked by the way I was consuming media and communications. I was, essentially, giving my power away. I recognized that I was less able to really focus and was feeling increasingly anxious (at least more than normal). I needed to make my world a little smaller and far less distracting for my own mental wellbeing. We could argue it is just the news right now, but really it's what the news always is — it is what it is optimized for, conflict and consumerism.
This wellbeing is many things, from the ability to focus at work to cultivating self-reflection and self-awareness and being fully present for others.
Upon reflection, this week has been a relative oasis of calm. Considering all that is happening in the world, that is a (privileged) gift. In the space and time that was freed, I read a wonderful book this weekend that has awoken a new sense of agency and urgency inside me, appropriately called The Politics of Waking Up: Power and possibility in a fractal age, by Indra Adnan. Without distraction, I read deeply, making connections amongst different ideas and feeling invigorated by the resonance of its vision.
This week's realizations also felt very much like a challenge. A challenge to be much more intentional in what I give my attention to, and how I interact with others through my devices and offline.
So yes, less social media, news and fewer real-time notifications, but that's not the whole story of attention. The second element is the source of information. Seeking out stories that are not embedded into or reinforcing the exploitative system we currently live within, or the identity that has been prescribed to you by that system, including a media establishment that cannot even bring itself to name our current climate emergency for what it is and cover it as such for fear of offending advertisers.
Clearly, alternatives are needed beyond the mainstream that are not in business to profit from triggering and manipulating emotions, seeking to reinforce binary framings of identity that feed off conflict, trauma and destruction. (I’ve added a couple of links below that remind me of my humanity)
So yes, your attention really does matter, you could say our collective ability to create the world anew depends on us rescuing our attention from its enslaved trance of consumerist inundation and adversarial narratives of the world around us.
Human and ecological flourishing awaits us, borne from our collective and mutualistic agency, and is being cultivated as we speak. We are all needed in this vision of our future, but we need to pay attention.
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