Let’s talk about Attention, the ‘Sumatran Elephant’ in the room

We live in an “information glut” and it’s an excess that we should be concerned about (never a more apt time for the hashtag #firstworldproblems…) because it’s not something that has obvious side effects. Clogged arteries might make us feel sharp pains in our chest while we’re busting a gut on the treadmill, but what signs do we watch out for when we’ve had too much of scrolling through social media news feeds ad infinitum?

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media and in recent times it has drifted towards the latter (after being on hiatus from Facebook for over 12 months I realise now how much I despise using it) because it robs me of time and control over thought patterns. It also means that whatever attention span I have is scattered between the channels I use (using more platforms = more fragmented attention) and so I have less time to direct that limited attention to producing something of value.

Social media platforms encourage users to use them more, if not to post, then at least to scroll through feeds and digest MORE content (read this piece from the BBC about Facebook’s algorithms and a personal favourite from ex-Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris on how tech hijacks the mind), which is the reason platforms are providing an abundance of content in all of its forms: status updates, live profile photos, photos, 360 photos, videos, live broadcasts, disappearing media. If there’s another variable to add to that list, then you can bet the third mole on your arm that it’ll be on Facebook at some point.

Then there is the problem of private FB accounts not being quite so ‘private’ as photos or status updates that you put up, and which your friends engage with, end up appearing on their news feeds. This side to social media of feeling so exposed – of leaving more and more digital footprints that perpetuates who you are at a particular moment in time and which creates an inadvertent projection of yourself that you might not want to bear witness to in future (or that you might want to keep in the past) – is quite disconcerting. Redemption? No such thing when most of the online world is permanent.

Attention isn’t close to being the ‘Sumatran elephant’ in the room in that it will never be extinct at such, but it has never been more fragmented than it is now. And the fact that this scarce resource that is our attention has been so sought after shows us that attention is desirable and valuable in itself and it is so because where attention is, so is the bling.

The more time you spend on these platforms, the more ads you see in your feed and the greater the likelihood that you will make a purchase, making FB even more valuable to advertisers. And the more valuable it is to advertisers, the more bling it makes and the more it is able to reinvest into the platform to make it more engaging, and it goes on and on and on. At what point FB’s growth ceases is anyone’s guess.

Fuck dis shit we gettin’ outta here son

So I am at least going to attempt to wean myself off a dependence on distraction and refrain from social media during our trip, and will be deactivating all social channels to focus on the reasons we are going on the trip in the first place: to have one hell of an amazing adventure (without our noses stuck in our phones), to focus on personal projects for the near future, and to spend time with loved ones.

Will still be updating this blog (with updates shared through The Rambling Wanderers FB page, managed through a private account) and will resurface on Instagram later on but until then, there’s a lot of improvement to be done here 🙂