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But "safe" isn't safe anymore.

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

The attention economy deactivates your awesome.

Social media, tv, especially 24 hr news, radio shows... all these are designed to keep your increasingly short attention on them. The entire business model is centered on attracting and keeping your attention. This means that they are incentivized to say or do whatever it takes to keep your eyes on them. Without your constant attention, these entertainment outlets are doomed to rapid irrelevance and cancellation.

Consider the implications of this. You know that you lose interest in the boring. That’s what boring means. But what keeps your attention? Things that are new? Yes and no. Completely novel things require effort to make sense of. Unless you really want to, this effort is too much. What we really like is “easy new”. New variations on themes we already like. Thus, the survival of all of these outlets is based on constantly feeding you mild variations on things you already like.

Remember the old saw about boiling frogs? You are the frog. News, social media, games, even the color scheme of your phone are the hot water.

We aren’t just slowly turning up the heat here, hoping you don’t notice. We have extremely precise measurements of what your specific tolerances for novelty and boring are. Whatever your media drug of choice is, we are giving you a precise mixture of new and old, of outrage and rapport, teasers and reveals. We know how to distract. We are good at it.

It is a staggeringly effective system. It took me an hour and a half to start writing this. I had written down the core idea, set my alarm, and I know how the system works. Still I got distracted by blinking lights and emails and “click here to read more.” Escaping takes more mental effort than I would have believed 20 years ago.

Try this exercise:
  1. Get yourself a pen and some paper, real paper not an app.
  2. Turn it off. All of it. Shut down the steady background noise of notifications and news channels vying for your attention.  
  3. Get still. When you are still and your mind is clamoring for input, think about what you are doing. Look at your thoughts as if from outside. What do you see? Does it look like addiction? Does it look like programming?
  4. Write down a few words for the feelings you have. Write down the thoughts that drive you to pick up the phone or turn on the news. Don’t think too hard, just be brutally honest. Ask yourself if the reasons are true. 
  5. Do those thoughts and concerns look like the person you think you are? Are you even thinking? Or is it just automatic? 

Technology is not the problem, it’s just exacerbated the problem. Technology is not evil. Even this system we have accidentally created isn’t evil. It’s just banal. 

We have the opportunity to change. We can choose better. You can choose better. You can choose awesome.

You can choose your direction.
You can choose what you focus on.
You can choose to do the real work.

It feels safe to stay connected so you don’t miss anything.
It feels safe to polarize and dig in your heels, surrounding yourself with the army of people who echo the same thoughts you absorbed.
It feels safe to attack or retaliate against anything that you’ve been told threatens you.
It feels safe to be told you were right.
It feels safe to feel fearful and endangered, because we are so used to it, it seems normal.

It is not. It is not normal, and it is not safe. In a world where truth is whoever shouts loudest wins and everyone is jonesing for the morphine of likes, followers, and empty affirmations, that feeling of safety is the most dangerous thing there is.

Awesome is disconnecting from the false and making real connections.
Awesome is accepting others and encouraging dissent and discussion.
Awesome is considering alternative points of view, letting attacks pass by, and changing your mind when you have considered the facts.
Awesome is taking the risk and responsibility that you might be wrong.
Awesome is owning your fears, doubts and prejudices and living your best life in spite of them.

If you have the choice between safe and awesome; choose awesome.

#chooseawesome #attentioneconomy #notsafe #fomo