The Gift at the Heart of the Digital Attention Crisis
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
– Mary Oliver
Consciousness, awareness and attention are closely related aspects of the same mysterious yet intimately familiar phenomenon so fundamental to human life. As such, understanding and developing our personal consciousness is indispensable to the quest for self-knowledge.
Before delving into the dynamics of consciousness and its fundamental position in our lives, in this essay I will make the case that the advent of digital global communications, even with its increasingly apparent downsides, has given us an important if largely unrecognized assist in our quest for self-knowledge by prompting us to recognize the all-important subject of consciousness/awareness/attention and begin taking it seriously.
In recent years, apprehensions about our ever-growing use of the internet, mobile devices and especially social media have exploded into the public conversation. One of the most worrisome concerns is how our pervasive digital preoccupation is impacting our personal attention. Hence a common term for this dilemma: the digital attention crisis.
… seemingly separate problems – tech addiction, teen depression, shortening attention spans, political polarization, the breakdown of truth, outrage-ification of culture, and the rise of vanity/micro-celebrity culture – are actually not separate issues. They are all symptoms of one underlying problem: the race between tech giants to capture human attention….”
It is abundantly clear that this relentless assault on our attention is having escalating ill effects on society. Yet at the very heart of the problem, hidden in plain sight, lies an invaluable gift that can help lead us out of the conundrum. The digital age has opened the door to a critical evolutionary opportunity: We are beginning to recognize on a wider scale than ever before that the care and management of our personal attention is vital to our individual and collective well-being.
As we face widening sociopolitical polarization and growing authoritarian movements, heightened racial tensions and inequities, accelerating environmental destruction, and many other destabilizing systemic problems, developing our consciousness may well prove essential to our very survival.
As we recognize, reclaim and harness our attention, we can choose to embrace the heroic challenge of waking up from our self-induced, self-limiting slumber and begin the essential work of reconnecting to our core self, to each other, and to our living planet.
Our wake-up call is ringing off the hook. With our newfound appreciation for both the vulnerability and the liberating power of our personal attention, waking up is now more urgent and more achievable than ever before.