Handling attention thieves in the modern world
It's interesting, in the U.S. at least there is definitely a battle going on for our attention every day. Advertisers, media, the news, and government all seem to be jockeying for our eyes and ears, and in particular, jockeying for influence in how and what we think.
Hannah Arendt noted that what differentiated the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century was their fascination with controlling thoughts not just action. The state didn't just want you to conform, they wanted you to believe it was for the greater good. They wanted to make true believers.
In the 21st century, it seems to me that this is the case not just with governments, but also with advertisers, media, the news, and government. They are all pushing narratives, and they are keen that we live and believe those narratives.
Given the amount of messaging that is out there, this strikes me as a form of pollution: message pollution. In fighting to make us believe certain things, our inner dialogues, sense of being, and consciousness itself becomes manipulated.
There is a way to manage message pollution -- I call it creating an internal narrative.
An internal narrative is an inner point of view that lets you look at the world, and that tries to be as free of unconscious influence as much as possible.
My theory is that without attention to our own consciousness, we permit outside forces to dictate what our thoughts are and should be. It's like holding a magnet to iron shards -- they all get into place. The outside programming is the magnet, and we can be like iron shards when we give up our ability to engage in critical thinking, when we give up our attention. And today is a time when it is easier than ever to just not have any attention, or to give it to something else.
Here are some steps to creating an internal narrative:
1. Try and minimize mental pollution and addicting online habits. We are all surrounded by so much messaging. Take the time to look at your intake of news, television programming, podcasts, and in particular, social media like FB, Twitter and Instagram. Start to identify things that feel more like addictions. Start to minimize addicting habits. One thing I noticed recently is that I check my news feed way too often. Social media is not something I need to be constantly checking either. It's tough because our phones are so ubiquitous now, but even at least acknowledging that you're on your phone, or this is the 15th time today you're looking at FB, can at least start to give you some insight into your daily habits. When you're on the internet, be conscious about what it is you're doing, and why.
2. Draw your own independent conclusions from facts, even if it is not conventional wisdom. Much of what is broadcast today is packaged and sold with a pre-existing agenda that is given a thin veneer of neutrality, when it is anything but neutral. With the rise of the internet, we are slowly witnessing people picking and choosing which "reality" they want to be a part of, and connecting with other people who share that reality, even if that reality has no basis in fact. This is true of all sides of the political spectrum.
It's incumbent on thinking people to draw their own conclusions from facts that are uncontested (or based in some type of theory that can be tested and disproven). This goes hand-in-hand with point 1 above: try and minimize the messaging you entertain to just a few, trusted, factual sources, and then, do your best to draw your own conclusions from those facts. Be open minded and change your mind if you learn new facts: but don't just think about something someone else told you to do that.
3. Meditate. Meditation is a technology that is thousands of years old, and I believe that it is a potential key towards liberating all of us from this increasingly unending battle for our attention. Meditation trains the mind to be pointed and sharp; it develops concentration; and, at a certain point, it permits someone to obtain deeper insight into the nature of the mind itself. A mind that has meditated is a mind that can withstand a significant amount of message pollution.
4. Connect with others in real life as much as you can. The internet lets us connect with others electronically, but we need to prioritize and engage with other human beings as much as we can in real life. We have to get off our phones more and do the hard work of organizing and developing real life social communities that provide for friendship, a free exchange of ideas, respect, and relationships. We are a social species and our need for social interaction is baked into our genome. We can reverse stress, alienation, anxiety and unhappiness if we just connect with each other more often in real life.
5. Express yourself as much as you can. Like anything, an internal narrative gets strength with practice. Practice expressing yourself as much as you in whatever formats you can. Play music with others, draw, speak at conferences and lectures; discuss your internal narrative with others so that it becomes battle hardened and able to withstanding criticism. Refine it, so that it becomes a useful way to navigate life.