Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

So when I came across Carr’s book in 2020 (The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains), I was ready to read it. And what I found in it was a key — not just to a theory but to a whole map of 20th-century media theorists…who saw what was coming and tried to warn us. Carr’s argument began with an observation, one that felt familiar:

The very way my brain worked seemed to be changing. It was then that I began worrying about my inability to pay attention to one thing for more than a couple of minutes. At first I’d figured that the problem was a symptom of middle-age mind rot. But my brain, I realized, wasn’t just drifting. It was hungry. It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it — and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became. Even when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check email, click links, do some Googling. I wanted to be connected.

Hungry. That was the word that hooked me. That’s how my brain felt to me, too. Hungry. Needy. Itchy. Once it wanted information. But then it was distraction. And then, with social media, validation. A drumbeat of: You exist. You are seen…

These are industries I know well, and I do not think it has changed them, or the people in them (myself included), for the better.  But what would? I’ve found myself going back to a wise, indescribable book that Jenny Odell, a visual artist, published in 2019. In “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” Odell suggests that any theory of media must first start with a theory of attention. “One thing I have learned about attention is that certain forms of it are contagious,” she writes.

When you spend enough time with someone who pays close attention to something (if you were hanging out with me, it would be birds), you inevitably start to pay attention to some of the same things. I’ve also learned that patterns of attention — what we choose to notice and what we do not — are how we render reality for ourselves, and thus have a direct bearing on what we feel is possible at any given time. These aspects, taken together, suggest to me the revolutionary potential of taking back our attention.

I think Odell frames both the question and the stakes correctly. Attention is contagious. What forms of it, as individuals and as a society, do we want to cultivate? What kinds of mediums would that cultivation require?

This is anything but an argument against technology, were such a thing even coherent. It’s an argument for taking technology as seriously as it deserves to be taken, for recognizing, as McLuhan’s friend and colleague John M. Culkin put it, “we shape our tools, and thereafter, they shape us.”

There is an optimism in that, a reminder of our own agency. And there are questions posed, ones we should spend much more time and energy trying to answer: How do we want to be shaped? Who do we want to become?

— Ezra Klein, from “I Didn’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message” (NY Times, August 7, 2022)

Comments

  1. Thank you very much for sharing that quote. We absolutely agree with the Klein’s arguments.
    Have a happy week
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely spot on! I liked my brain better when it was full of wonderous things and not all the click bait. Have a great week try to stay cool David.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And why, I think perception becomes one’s reality…complicated no doubt, by the manic way in which we flit from one disconnected thought to the next, replicating Big Blue speed and sacrificing attenuated thought. There is no doubt that we can cede agency to technology or emphatically insist that this is ours to hold. We have the luxury of being able to stop and pause and wonder and when we do, we are the better for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. this is so incredibly true. we have to remember that we are the captains of our own ships and learn to resist the siren song. not easy

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for giving me pause to think about this. Wondering if this addiction may be our downfall. It makes us so vulnerable to manipulation and cohersion.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Than you for sharing this, David.
    The way my brain works has changed due to the internet. And I still consider myself lucky. I’m almost 50 years old. I lived the no internet life. So, I know what if feels like to slowdown and live without it. I switch back and forth.
    The younger generation were never wired for life without it. Nothing changed for them. This is it. THEY are the ones I worry about. But in other aspects they’re lucky. The answer to everything is a click away.

    Looking for validation is a choice.
    Couch potatoes before the internet are still potatoes after the internet.

    And lastly, I’m going to pull Tatiana Tolstaya chapter on Italy from Aethereal Beginnings. She did not talk about Italy, she went on and on talking about what the rest of the world would look like, what history would be, had there been no Italy.
    Can we stop for a second and imagine our world without the internet?
    I can’t!
    Or the power of the #.
    even wars are being fought different now.
    We live in good time. It’s shitty. But we have the tools.

    Happy Monday 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Such an interesting post, DK. The internet has undeniably changed our lives, our minds, for the better as some have indicated, as well as for the worse, as I think we all feel. I notice myself getting ‘twitchy’ sometimes if I can’t check a device and I *hate* it. My brother and I were talking about this just yesterday and he said he half believes that the best thing for everyone might be a big EMP that wiped out all these devices for a while. Can’t say I disagree….😔

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have started writing “Morning Pages” – it’s basically stream of consciousness writing. Supposed to write three pages of whatever it is we want to dump from our minds. Just this morning I was writing about this stupid need to multi-task. Watch TV while hooked up to the internet, while writing a post, while checking FB, while, while, while.
    Just this morning, I made a promise to myself to stop doing that. I foresee a struggle ahead.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I had to chuckle over Dale’s comment about needing to multi-task. I often felt that way – as if doing only one thing took too much time and I could be doing something else at the same time. I do Sudoku while I’m watching TV so I don’t waste that time completely. But when I started considering reading while taking a road trip I had to draw the line. I mean, I was the driver, not the passenger. But all that aside, the photo you used today, with all heads down into their gadgets, struck me with horror.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. God help us – there are people in that photo actually walking down stairs while using their phones! Some days I’m glad that I’m old and can remember the beauty of just being out and about in the sunshine. On the other hand the internet has been a boon for today’s seniors – keeping in touch and learning something new everyday. Must admit I love it, but will always keep one foot on “the other side” cause that’s where the beauty and calm is. I think we need to look up from our screens to find our centre. Good Monday everyone.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. With companies designed to profit off this addiction, I wonder if there is such a thing as a balanced way to use the internet.
    Certainly a wake-up call, thanks for sharing on this Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh-h brought back maybe my first realization of THIS. When teaching at Rutgers, and changing to another building for another class, I would see most of the kids (all nationalities) seemingly happily talking on their phones. I realized the phones were their pacifiers!
    So, I just sent your post to 2 of my grandchildren (he 24, she 22). Since neither is married, and working but not at anything fulfilling, I’m sure their gadgets are like heart monitors. I would think that anyone married with children would not even want to be so attached. Is that what’s missing? People? real human beings? up close and personal engagement? real life?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Too much food 4 thoughts… I do, for a long time already, shut off the WiFi at night, as I did my phone 📱 which I have to leave on as I am the 1st person to be contacted if the wrist alarm of my 99yr old, still in her appt. living auntie…. once she will no longer be with us, my phone will be off again. Plus, I usually try to be much less ‘present’ on weekends. Reading enormously helps to focus on other things too.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Is that a REAL photo? Really? That’s horrifying….

    Liked by 1 person

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