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)

I’ve taken a million pictures – 50 were good.

‘Do not call me master, for heaven’s sake,” says Ferdinando Scianna, welcoming me inside his studio, a cosy ground-floor space in the centre of Milan. “I do not teach anything to anyone. Come in, take a seat.”

Scianna has just turned 79. Photography, for him, was an obsession that lasted 60 years. “And it is over today,” he declares. He has not taken pictures for years and says that when young photographers approach him for advice, he wants to ask them for theirs instead. “I tell them the most obvious thing: photograph what you love and what you hate. But they should tell me how to sneak around in this weird era that I do not really know.”

Scianna has taken more than a million photographs and, in his words, the good shots number about 50…

He loves to work on books though. He has published over 70; more, he says, than prudence would have advised him. The first was published in 1965 and is about religious rituals in Sicily (Feste Religiose in Sicilia). “I was just a 21-year-old Sicilian kid, and that book built my career. Today, when I leaf through the pages, I feel confused. I look at my photos and I ask myself, who took those images? I was too young and ignorant. You know, I learned to take pictures over the years – basically, just by taking them.” …

I do not think I can change the world with my photographs, but I do believe that a bad picture can make it worse,” he says. “And the point is that we have too many images. If you eat caviar every day, eventually you will want pasta e fagioli.” He thinks that photography went into an irreparable crisis a couple of decades ago, when we stopped building family photo albums. “Today we all take photos with our phones, but they are background images. Even a selfie is not a self-portrait but a kind of neurosis about a moment of existence that must immediately supplant another, and so on. And we all know what happens when something loses the identity that has determined its success and cultural function. It dies.” …

He also disdains the pace of change driven by the internet. “On the web, everything is consumed quickly. Culture, on the other hand, is slowness and choice. I made my theory; it is the theory of the three risottos. Do you want to hear it?” He clears his throat. “If someone has never eaten a risotto in his life – and if they have never been to Sicily, they certainly never have eaten a good one – the first time they taste it, they can only say if they liked it or not. The second time, however, they can argue that it was better or worse than the first one. Only from the third time on can they have their own theory of risotto and, if they want, give advice on how it should be cooked. Culture, to me, is knowing things and having a choice.” …

His last solo exhibition was at the prestigious Palazzo Reale in Milan. More than 200 photos were on show and, on some days, there were long queues waiting to get in. “Graham Greene once wrote, while travelling from Marseille to Paris, at some point he deeply believed in the existence of God. With photographs it is a bit the same. And the world, you know, practises forgetfulness. Millions of men lived before us, men who had dreams, who have done things. We do not know anything about them.”

But then, I ask, what remains in history? “Things that have found their shape,” he replies instinctively, adding: “I have walked my entire my life only to take photos. I am like those little dogs who, while walking, have left their poop around the streets. But if you really want to know the truth, then yes, taking pictures has given me a lot of happiness.” He takes another puff on his pipe and watches the smoke slowly rise towards the ceiling until it becomes a giant white cloud that evaporates in a second.

— Maurizio Fiorino, excerpts from “”I’ve taken a million pictures – 50 were good’: photographer Ferdinando Scianna” (The Guardian, July 26, 2022)


Notes:

Hard Truth

When Facebook (and all the others) decide what you see in your news feed, there are many thousands of things they could show you. So they have written a piece of code to automatically decide what you will see. There are all sorts of algorithms they could use—ways they could decide what you should see, and the order in which you should see them. They could have an algorithm designed to show you things that make you feel happy. They could have an algorithm designed to show you things that make you feel sad. They could have an algorithm to show you things that your friends are talking about most. The list of potential algorithms is long.

The algorithm they actually use varies all the time, but it has one key driving principle that is consistent. It shows you things that will keep you looking at your screen. That’s it. Remember: the more time you look, the more money they make. So the algorithm is always weighted toward figuring out what will keep you looking, and pumping more and more of that onto your screen to keep you from putting down your phone. It is designed to distract. But, Tristan was learning, that leads—quite unexpectedly, and without anyone intending it—to some other changes, which have turned out to be incredibly consequential.

Imagine two Facebook feeds. One is full of updates, news, and videos that make you feel calm and happy. The other is full of updates, news, and videos that make you feel angry and outraged. Which one does the algorithm select? The algorithm is neutral about the question of whether it wants you to be calm or angry. That’s not its concern. It only cares about one thing: Will you keep scrolling? Unfortunately, there’s a quirk of human behavior. On average, we will stare at something negative and outrageous for a lot longer than we will stare at something positive and calm. You will stare at a car crash longer than you will stare at a person handing out flowers by the side of the road, even though the flowers will give you a lot more pleasure than the mangled bodies in a crash. Scientists have been proving this effect in different contexts for a long time—if they showed you a photo of a crowd, and some of the people in it were happy, and some angry, you would instinctively pick out the angry faces first. Even ten-week-old babies respond differently to angry faces. This has been known about in psychology for years and is based on a broad body of evidence. It’s called “negativity bias.”

There is growing evidence that this natural human quirk has a huge effect online. On YouTube, what are the words that you should put into the title of your video, if you want to get picked up by the algorithm? They are—according to the best site monitoring YouTube trends—words such as “hates,” “obliterates,” “slams,” “destroys.” A major study at New York University found that for every word of moral outrage you add to a tweet, your retweet rate will go up by 20 percent on average, and the words that will increase your retweet rate most are “attack,” “bad,” and “blame.” A study by the Pew Research Center found that if you fill your Facebook posts with “indignant disagreement,” you’ll double your likes and shares. So an algorithm that prioritizes keeping you glued to the screen will—unintentionally but inevitably—prioritize outraging and angering you. If it’s more enraging, it’s more engaging.

If enough people are spending enough of their time being angered, that starts to change the culture. As Tristan told me, it “turns hate into a habit.” You can see this seeping into the bones of our society. When I was a teenager, there was a horrific crime in Britain, where two ten-year-old children murdered a toddler named Jamie Bulger. The Conservative prime minister at the time, John Major, responded by publicly saying that he believed we need “to condemn a little more, and understand a little less.” I remembered thinking then, at the age of fourteen, that this was surely wrong—that it’s always better to understand why people do things, even (perhaps especially) the most heinous acts. But today, this attitude—condemn more, understand less—has become the default response of almost everyone, from the right to the left, as we spend our lives dancing to the tune of algorithms that reward fury and penalize mercy.

In 2015 a researcher named Motahhare Eslami, as part of a team at the University of Illinois, took a group of ordinary Facebook users and explained to them how the Facebook algorithm works. She talked them through how it selects what they see. She discovered that 62 percent of them didn’t know their feeds were filtered at all, and they were astonished to learn about the algorithm’s existence. One person in the study compared it to the moment in the film The Matrix when the central character, Neo, discovers he is living in a computer simulation.

I called several of my relatives and asked them if they knew what an algorithm was. None of them—including the teenagers—did. I asked my neighbors. They looked at me blankly. It’s easy to assume most people know about this, but I don’t think it’s true.

Johann Hari, “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–and How to Think Deeply Again” (Crown, January 25, 2022)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short. Here’s one way of putting things in perspective: the first modern humans appeared on the plains of Africa at least 200,000 years ago, and scientists estimate that life, in some form, will persist for another 1.5bn years or more, until the intensifying heat of the sun condemns the last organism to death. But you? Assuming you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks.

When I first made that calculation, I felt queasy; but once I’d recovered, I started pestering my friends, asking them to guess – off the top of their heads, without doing any mental arithmetic – how many weeks they thought the average person could expect to live. One named a number in the six figures. Yet, as I felt obliged to inform her, a fairly modest six-figure number of weeks – 310,000 – is the approximate duration of all human civilisation since the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia. On almost any meaningful timescale, as the contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel has written, “we will all be dead any minute”.

And so distraction truly matters – because your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention. At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been. When you pay attention to something you don’t especially value, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you’re paying with your life…

—  Oliver Burkeman, from At best, we’re on Earth for around 4,000 weeks —  so why do we lose so much time to online to online distraction? (The Guardian, August 7, 2021)

…the hot breath of impending Armageddon

But something about Facebook brought out truly juvenile impulses…There was a bit of bad faith in smugly ridiculing these poor people. Posts tended toward selfies of rosacea-faced long-haired women in old-style prairie dresses and lots of pregnancy crowdsourcing about progesterone and wild yams. So what, if that it what they believe? Laughing at them was a shabby use of her time, but she knew part of what made Facebook — and the internet, really — addicting was simultaneously indulging your own obsessions while mocking (deriding, denouncing even) the obsessions of others from the safety of your screen. It was hard to resist, and indulging this impulse — even silently to yourself — made everything worse, made you worse, she was sure of it. … That led her to Twitter and back to Facebook, to wildly out-of-proportion, aggro throw downs between various vegan groups and carnivore groups, omnivores and fasters. Diet had apparently become the major battlefield for all the dispossessed (i.e., all of us). There was something quaintly nineteenth-century American about it all: the focus on health, the zealotry, the desire for perfection, and the hot breath of impending Armageddon. She clicked, she tapped, she followed, she liked. A few groups she joined, and always she lurked.

Dana Spiotta, Wayward: A Novel (Knopf, July 6, 2021)


Image & Book Review from Los Angeles Times: “Dana Spiotta’s novel of midlife female rage”.

About right…


The New Yorker Magazine

I carry my phone around with me as if it were an oxygen tank

I carry my phone around with me as if it were an oxygen tank. I stare at it while I make breakfast and take out the recycling, ruining what I prize most about working from home—the sense of control, the relative peace. I have tried all sorts of things to look at screens less often: I don’t get push notifications or use Facebook or watch Instagram stories; on my home computer, I have installed a browser plug-in called StayFocusd, which turns off Twitter after forty-five minutes of daily use. On my phone, I use an app called Freedom to block social media for much of the workday. If any of my digital chastity belts malfunction, I start scrolling like a junkie, pulling myself away just long enough to send frantic e-mails to the apps’ customer service with subject lines like “Freedom not working!” …

Nearly three-quarters of Americans have taken steps to distance themselves from Facebook. Entire families try to observe a “digital Sabbath.” Parents seek screen-time alternatives to the Jungian horrorscape that is children’s YouTubeAnd yet a mood of fidgety powerlessness continues to accumulate, like an acid snowfall on our collective mind…

One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. I didn’t want to learn how to fix or build anything, or start a book club. I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless, three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky. Nothing is harder to do than nothing,” Jenny Odell writes, in her new book,How to Do Nothing.” …Odell details, with earnest wonder, moments in her life when she was reoriented toward these values. After the 2016 election, she began feeding peanuts to two crows on her balcony, and found comfort in the fact that “these essentially wild animals recognized me, that I had some place in their universe.” …

On the first day of April, I took stock of my digital experiment. I had not become a different, better person. I had not acquired any high-value leisure activities. But I had felt a sort of persistent ache and wonder that pulled me back to a year that I spent in the Peace Corps, wandering in the dust at the foot of sky-high birch trees, terrified and thrilled at the sensation of being unknowable, mysterious to myself, unseen. I watered my plants, and I loosened my StayFocusd settings, back to forty-five daily minutes. I considered my Freedom parameters, which I had already learned to break, and let them be…

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, in 1654…

Sitting quietly in a room alone is for experts.

~ Jia Tolentino, excerpts from What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away The New Yorker, April 22, 2019


Notes: Essay – Thank you Sawsan for sharing! And publicly highlighting another addiction. Image: Nico Milk

Picture is Worth…


Notes:

 

All dust and flashing hooves

hooves-dust

Certainly, being in the moment would seem impossible in our culture’s time-fissioning present, our iPhoned, Facebooked, Googled, Twittered restlessness, our desperate fear of missing the latest morsel of information, our attention never more than a nanosecond from seduction — our discontinuous, du jour present, a Smithsonian so densely packed with experiential exhibits that no lingering look, no settled examination, seems permitted. No sooner do we settle into a moment than another gallops by, all dust and flashing hooves.

~ Jerry DeNuccio, from “A Moment.” Just as you’re ”in” the moment, another moment comes. What to do?. 


Notes: Quote – Thank you Beth at Alive on All Channels. Photo: Richard Baxter (Harcourt, Australia) with Spirit Dance

 

Wired

ajit johnson


Source: See others in this series by Ajit Johnson

Zigzagging b/w indulgence and denial, frenetic states and cleansing cures, busy selves and better selves

busy-rush-hurry-blur-multi-task-technology

There’s a lot of status anxiety going about these days. People live suspended between the anxiety of being deluged in communication and the agony of receiving none. They have always wanted to be liked, but now they must also be “liked.” They exist under the digital pressure of reciprocal judgment, a state that knows no repose. They are either on top of things, a momentary illusion, or overwhelmed, a permanent state intermittently denied. They look around wondering how it is possible to keep up. They have access to everything and certainty about nothing. They zigzag between indulgence and denial, frenetic states and cleansing cures, their busy selves and their better selves. They have nightmares about getting a thumbs-down. They ask themselves how the Day of Judgment became day-in, day-out judgment. They make resolutions that unravel. They amass to-do lists that cannot get done. They are not sure where they stand on the ratings scales, on the lists that proliferate, on the global grading of everything and everyone.

This state crept up on them. How such unease came about, who willed it and with what design, was not quite clear, but it must, they thought, have something to do with what is called progress. Where it was headed was equally murky but sometimes the destination looked unappealing, a place where peace had been crowded out by the pursuit of efficiencies.

~ Roger Cohen, The Great Unease


Image: themetapicture.com (Thank you Susan)

I was never completely where I was

crackphone_2

David Roberts: Re-boot or Die Trying. One Man’s Year of Digital Detox:

[…] There was no such thing as caught up; there was, at best, keeping up. To step away from e-mail, news feeds, texts, chats, and social media for even a moment was to allow their deposited information to accumulate like snow in the driveway, a burden that grew every second it was neglected.

I spent most of my daytime hours shoveling digital snow. The core of my job—researching, thinking, writing at greater-than-140-character length—I could accomplish only in the middle of the night, when things calmed down. I spent more and more hours working, or at least work adjacent, but got less and less done.

Meanwhile, my mind and body adapted to the pace of digital life, with its ceaseless ping ping ping of notifications and alerts. I got twitchy if I was away from my phone for more than a few seconds. I felt it vibrating in my pocket when it wasn’t there, took it with me to bed, even to the bathroom. (I got pretty good at tweeting while I peed, to my enduring discredit.)

All my in-between moments, the interstitial transitions and pauses that fill the cracks of a day, were crowded with pings. My mind was perpetually in the state that researcher and technology writer Linda Stone termed continuous partial attention. I was never completely where I was, never entirely doing what I was doing. I always had one eye on the virtual world. Every bit of conversation was a potential tweet, every sunset a potential Instagram […]

Don’t miss the rest of the story here: Reboot or Die Trying. One Man’s Year of Digital Detox.


Image: “Crackphone” from Saltywaffle.com

Go cold turkey for Cash? A tough call.

funny-cell-phone-Facebook-computer-WiFi


Source: themetapicture.com. Thanks Susan.

Like me. Like ME. LIKE ME DAMN IT.

do-you-like-me-2

Bruce FeilerFor the Love of Being ‘Liked’ – For Some Social-Media Users, an Anxiety From Approval Seeking:

Walking through an airport newsstand this year, I noticed a novelty…I quickly snapped a photo and sent out a tweet to my modest list of followers…Then I waited for the love. I checked the response before passing through security. Nothing. I glanced again while waiting for the plane. Still nothing. I looked again before we took off. Nobody cared. My little attempt to pass a lonely hour in an airport with some friendly interaction had turned into the opposite: a brutal cold shower of social isolation.

We are deep enough into the social-media era to begin to recognize certain patterns among its users. Foremost among them is a mass anxiety of approval seeking and popularity tracking that seems far more suited to a high school prom than a high-functioning society…

…it all begins to seem a bit, well, desperate.

…Time for a rewrite, Mr. Shakespeare. This above all: to thine others be true.

…“In a lot of ways, the addictive part is in the anticipation,”

…”I noticed I get in this puppet situation,” she said. “I get bored, and there’s something compelling about being able to put something online, and all of a sudden there’s instant gratification of ‘They like me!’

…Maybe Warhol needs a rewrite, too: Today, everybody can be famous for 15 retweets.

…A growing body of research indicates how deeply our brains are wired to seek social approval.

Read full (and excellent) article at For the Love of Being ‘Liked’


Notes:

Related Posts:

Leap around like panicky jackrabbits

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Mark Morford nails it again in: The Tragic Death of a Good Read

…You are not alone. Researchers say our brains are getting so heavily iTrained to leap around like panicky jackrabbits, any sentence that dares to contain more than eight words, any paragraph that contains multiple clauses, any long-form work that offers deep background info or long-winded, roundabout verbiage – AKA “literature” – merely leaves you sighing heavily and wishing for Candy Crush Saga

…English profs are reporting that their students are struggling more than ever to make it through the classics, because Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne don’t read like Gawker.

…It might be a small problem. It might be just a little indicative of a disturbing shift, a wicked sea change in the way we navigate not just books, not just magazines and media, but love, time, each other, the world.

…Have our insta-everything devices beaten the gracefulness out of our hearts and the patience out of our brains? And also the depth? And the meaning? Maybe.

Don’t miss reading the full post @ The Tragic Death of a Good Read


Image Credit

A Digital Detox Test: The 7 Day Digital Diet

Digital-detox-social-media

And, could I do it? Read the outcome of Patrick Leger’s test @ A Digital Detox Test: Unplug Twitter and Facebook. Put Off Email and Smartphone.

“So for one week in January… I unplugged…I disconnected during a regular workweek and, in lieu of tropical seclusion, enjoyed the subfreezing and proximal isle of Manhattan…I determined I would spend no more than 15 minutes in it each session and sign in just once over the weekend. I’d use the phone only from home and would wait until noon to turn it on. I would not initiate any text exchanges, and if I received a message, I would respond as tersely as possible or call the person back. I could not go on the Internet at all unless it was crucial, and certainly not on social media. No streaming or live TV, only DVDs. Handwritten calendar. And music only at home…”

SMWI*: Calories Burned Per Hour

healthiest sites on internet-funny


*SMSI = Saturday Morning Workout Inspiration

Source: Ben Greenman

We are, in other words, one another’s virtual enablers

Word Press & Facebook Like Symbols

NY Times, Sunday, June 16, 2013: Facebook Made Me Do It (Excerpts)

…That feedback loop of positive reinforcement is the most addictive element of social media. All those retweets, likes and favorites give us a little jolt, a little boost that pushes us to keep coming back for more. It works whether or not we post the typical social media fodder of lush vacation pictures and engagement announcements or venture into realms that showcase our most daredevilish antics and risqué behavior.

…Our growing collective compulsion to document our lives and share them online, combined with the instant gratification that comes from seeing something you are doing or experiencing get near-immediate approval from your online peers, could be giving us more reason to act out online, for better or for worse.

…We are, in other words, one another’s virtual enablers.

…the vast amplification of the potential audience a single person can reach has raised the stakes for all online activity.

…“It’s performative.”


Source: The New York Times: Facebook Made Me Do It by Jenna Wortham, Technology reporter

Yep. About right.

fun, funny, quote, ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, Focus, surfing


Now you can more fully understand why the exercise in the last post was such a struggle.


Source: themetapicture.com

Best Jobs in America

Job, Jobs, Employment, Work, Business


Click on image above and then click again on the image in the article for a full size view of the Best Jobs In America. No surprise – Technology, Healthcare, Telecom and Professional Services rank high on the list.  Interesting research and findings. Best Jobs:

  • Online Affiliates posting links for Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter (Categorized as high pay, low stress).
  • Mathematician
  • Actuary
  • Statistician
  • Computer systems analyst

Hit msnbc.com for full article titled “Want a Tough Job?  Do the Math.”


Source: Thank you eclectipundit.com for the share.

    Note: Rachel/Eric, I hope you are reading and digesting this too!
    Related Posts:
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