Reclaiming Attention

Social networking has lost its hold on me. It served as a seemingly helpful antidote to the isolation of working from home alone, but it slowly wove its way into the fundamental basis of how I direct my attention to what comes in and what goes out. Over time, the power of the smaller unit took hold; the short post of a trivial thought, the tiny jolt of a validating comment or like–these became the dominant mode of experiencing how I am in the world. But as long as it’s been since I felt and knew that this mode lacked any meaningful depth or satisfaction, I have trapped myself within its habits.

Recently, however, the wastefulness of it has troubled me more and more. Attention, like energy, time, and money, is a finite resource, one that most resembles time in that there’s no way for us to manufacture more of it than we have. The only latitude we have is in using it better. I’ve been squandering my own, but even worse, doing so on platforms whose sole purpose is to use what we do on them to capture other people’s attention and resell that attention to advertisers. The promise of being more connected to the people in our lives is ultimately just an artificial sweetener to unhealthy food fed to us by social networks so they can then harvest and resell our attention. I’ve not only gladly devoured that food but also complicitly served an agenda I despise.

So I’m taking a stand and reclaiming attention as a resource whose production and use I control.

Ultimately, the steps for doing so have proven to be simple to take, if not difficult to decide to carry out. I’ve dropped out of Tumblr entirely, importing all my content into this self-hosted blog. I’ve stopped posting on Twitter, again importing all my content here, first, and second, using it only for occasional serendipitous discovery of things I might not seek out actively. Facebook is proving more of a challenge, a slow withdrawal, because its promise of connectedness is so much more all-consumingly seductive, and the threat of isolation feels so much more ominous. All I have been able to do so far is post “somewhat” less, check “somewhat” less often, move my messaging elsewhere, and try to focus on only what I can’t replace (a few groups, and events). It’s not a complete solution but it feels better already.

If we want to free our attention from being some company’s product and a tool for harvesting the attention of others, it’s entirely within our power to do so. I have broader goals in mind, and more to do to reach them, but I am now on a path that leads there. I want to focus my attention on what matters most to me. My reading attention should focus on books, not posts. My writing attention should focus on longer forms and genuine projects, not pointless one-offs. My working attention should focus on making, and my social attention should focus on the beings I love. My values should focus on the efforts that bring them into the world. And so on. I’m eager to see where this leads me.