Winding back, Week 8 was on paying attention.
“When we make moral judgments, we are not just saying that this is better than that. Even more fundamentally, we are saying that this is more important than that. It is to order the overwhelming spread and simultaneity of everything, at the price of ignoring or turning our backs on most of what is happening in the world.” – Susan Sontag
“Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you.” – Alexandra Horowitz
When thinking about paying attention we often associate failure of the will. There is the notion of the autonomous individual being pulled off the course of steady observance and presence. This leaves us in a place of eternal conflict and looking for something or someone to blame for the win or loss of the attention competition.
Is it us, the weak willed fallible mortals who now with our shrinking attention spans and diminished wherewithal are simply incapable of staying focused on one thing? Or are we victim to causality? Are the crafty designers of distractions just too clever at finding new and irresistible ways to steal our dollar signed eyeballs to kick corporate goals?
Is it little to do with will, distraction or being led by the nose at all? Is it simply that we are dealing with the simultaneity of things? Instead of failures are we ever-evolving super-taskers? Are we just being deftly human dancing within layers of acknowledgement?
Thinkers continue lamenting our ability to pay attention in several ways. Here are some of my favorite examples:
Nicholas Carr presents us with a dystopian thought of becoming robotic, pancake people in content filled places,
Michael Sarcasas looks at our circle of presence examining how our perception of our environment is shaped by the presence of a tool, such as a camera, in hand,
Frank Furedi argues that the Age of Distraction is a cultural myth pointing out that history is repeating itself. “Cultural anxieties were often coupled with moralising about the capacity of printed publications to undermine purposeful and responsible behaviour.”
In your blog posts, you also went about the business of exploring attention – distraction – attention. Thank you for the excellent reads. I particularly enjoyed discovering some of the attention tests you designed and conducted. Here are a handful of those that caught my eye:
Sonny captured his multi-tasking/multiscreening experiment on video,
Reading, once deemed as a distraction, was used to test attention by Tracy,
Linh firmly agreed that her own attention span is shrinking and tested her friend’s ability to avoid interacting with her phone over lunch,
The quiet library space was intentionally fractured by Sophie‘s messages to her studious friend,
Claudia put her brother’s ability to multi-task to the test,
Breanna enlisted her brother and mother in a movie watching session experiment which showed that one generation in her family was not significantly better than the other at avoiding a second screen,
Mia found that phone checking extended a friendly game of Cards Against Humanity,
One of the awareness test clips that Elleni found online was used to test her friends’ capacity to watch without distraction.
The uniqueness of the tests you devised really impressed me. You each appear to be striving to produce new and interesting work.
Horowitz, A. (2013) On Looking With 11 Expert Eyes. New York: Scribner
Sontag, S. (2007) At the Same Time, Essays and Speeches. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.