Attending to the World

Really nice think piece on the discourse of attention in the modern world

Thank you for the podcast tip!

And just to derail: it’s kind of interesting how conviviality has turned up for me in the most unexpected places this past week. Even more interesting as my vacation just started, and it’s been (and will be for another 5 weeks) spent constantly in company with other people. I’m normally very much a loner. I like how life just gives you these little nudges sometimes.


Whats your take some of the themes in the article @Srinath? As an actually free person, are there any points in particular that stand out as important?

I think Mr. Sacasas did an excellent job addressing what seems to amount as beliefs and half-baked ideas that his peers have been pushing. A lot of these beliefs are currently shared by many people I meet and interact with.

He imagines that under alternative models, such as subscription based services for example, companies would be incentivized to offer better products: “Facebook and other social media companies have to ask, ‘What does Sean want?’ Oh, Sean wants to be able to pay attention. Let’s design our app not to maximally hack and invade his attention and ruin it, but to help him heal his attention.” In my view, this overestimates the power of benevolent design and underestimates the internal forces that lead us to seek out distraction. Something must, at the end of the day, be asked of us, too.

Something must, at the end of the day, be asked of us, too.

Mr. Sacasas hits the nail on the head with that line, imo.

Klein and Illing, while both sympathetic to Hari’s concerns, expressed a certain skepticism about his proposals. That’s understandable. In this case, as in so many others, I don’t believe that policy tweaks, regulations, shifting economic models, or newer technologies built on the same assumptions will solve the most fundamental challenges posed by our technological milieu. Such measures may have their role to play, no doubt. But I would characterize these measures as grand but ultimately inadequate gestures that appeal to us exactly to the degree that they appear to require very little of us while promising to deliver swift, technical solutions. For my part, I think more modest and seemingly inadequate measures, like tending more carefully to our language and cultivating ways of speaking that bind us more closely to the world, will, in the admittedly long, very long run, prove more useful and more enduring.

That was really well said. And it’s very nuanced to recognize the impact attending to our language has.

Vibe shift coming for us all soon! :crazy_face:

…we are not addicted to devices […] we are addicted to one another, to the affirmation of our value—our very being—that comes from other human beings. We are addicted to being validated by our peers.

I think this is the most important point of this whole thing… it’s not just that we seek out social interactions as a driver of our attention, but all of our interactions are socially driven, even when we are alone- “I am humanity and humanity is me.” Whether that is a flighty, ADHD seeking (as the author is bringing up here), or a long, slow, deep, exhaustive seeking - the end-goal is still social validation in some form or another.

Perhaps it is the case in such moments that we do not want to be alone with our thoughts. But perhaps just as often we simply don’t want to be alone.

The other side of this is all the times that we’re in someone’s company and really desire to be alone, or to be in someone else’s company!

We desire to be seen and acknowledged. To exercise meaningful degrees of agency and judgment. In short, to belong and to matter. Social media trades on these desires, exploits them, deforms them, and never truly satisfies them, which explains a good deal of the madness.

This props up the fantasy that this desire can ever be satisfied by anything… almost everyone lives in this delusion, that if only they or others behaved in a certain manner that this loneliness would vanish, but as Richard discovered the loneliness has deeper roots and a different source.

“Nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion.”

This experience is why Richard’s claim that we are fundamentally frightened, lonely children in the world immediately rang as true for me

“The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion. And yet it is the greatest of our miseries. For it is that above all which prevents us thinking about ourselves and leads us to destruction. But for that we should be bored, and boredom would drive us to seek some more solid means of escape, but diversion passes our time and brings us imperceptibly to our death.”

:ok_hand: :ok_hand: :ok_hand:

The following point that some themes & subjects have much more of a tendency to draw human attention is especially on point… I would argue again that most of what we do (as humans) is somewhat calculated to generate positive attention, or any attention at all in times when there is none

…our attention is more readily elicited by that which presents itself as being somehow “for me,” by that which, as Thomas de Zengotita has put it, flatters me by seeming to center the world on me.

It isn’t arranged so that you can experience it, you didn’t plan to experience it … That’s when we are not being addressed. That’s when we go without the flattery intrinsic to representation.

This is an interesting statement, and it reminds me of the experience of the mystic wherein everything that happens is some coded message from God, in other words everything is the flattery intrinsic to representation.

Asking what ‘good’ we are chasing is a great question which reveals that as feeling-beings we’re not even sure what we’re trying to accomplish, just chasing whatever instinctual feeling next comes across us. So there’s all this ‘optimizing’ and planning for something that we don’t even understand. It makes sense in this context how popular religion or whatever other ‘scheme’ is… it gives us something to do!

I was playing some video games last night and I was noticing how in games there’s structure inherent to the rules of the game, where the direct experiencing of the world doesn’t have that type of structure, it’s very open. I think a lot of why I (and many others) are attracted to games is because of that structure, it makes it clear what success is, when I am doing the ‘right thing’ and the ‘wrong thing,’ it tells me where to place my attention.

In the actual world this refuge doesn’t exist, and ‘I’ am like this cockroach forever scuttling for cover in some rule-system to feel safe, to feel like I’m doing ‘the right thing.’ I suppose that is what ego is.

tending more carefully to our language and cultivating ways of speaking that bind us more closely to the world, will, in the admittedly long, very long run, prove more useful and more enduring.

That’s a very ‘literati’ conclusion to come to right there

For my part, I certainly experience this difficulty focusing… I think it is a mix of the cornucopia of entertainment options available a fingertip away, and a simple insecurity… ‘I’ have things I imagine I want to pay attention to, but the ‘I’ that is is also constantly being distracted away by various other things that are also attractive to ‘I’

There is another wrinkle here, which is that frequently the diversion of attention comes when a fear crops up… it may be a subtle one, but there is a desire to escape from the present situation which manifests as distraction. So this is all another way of attempting to make ‘me’ live in the present, when really ‘I’ want nothing to do with what is happening right now… ‘I’ eternally wish to be else-where, to be attending elsewhere.

So attention is the same as reduction of the self… with no ‘me,’ I’m just paying attention to whatever is happening… apperception.


@edzd @henryyyyyyyyyy nice thoughts and agreed.

I guess I liked that he traces the anxiety about technology and its effects on attention to the 19th century in its current form. But possibly much earlier than that if we get looser with our definitions and look outside the West e.g. Buddhism’s ‘monkey mind’.

I think that parking the problem closer to our essential nature as a species - rather than something ‘out there’ that is fucking us up is the right move. But he doesn’t let techno-culture off the hook either. As to what extent a fully free person can avoid being captured by these forces I’m not sure. To a good extent yes, based on my experience as someone with an extant social identity. But I don’t think one can entirely escape being a product of ones times.