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August 8th, 2020
It’s one skill to curate your own attention when left to your own devices. It’s a subskill to analyze how other things curate your attention for you, and we already do it to a large degree, but placing it in strictly attentional language can yield a helpful nuance for moving forward.
How is that we already analyze how other things curate our attention?
How was the movie?
How good was the book?
Should I get into that show?
How’d the date go?
When you have an amazing conversation with someone, what exactly is happening in terms of the flow and shape of our attention. Does our attention wander during a great conversation, or does it feel naturally bound up in the moment? And while bound up in the moment, what is happening to that attention? How might we describe the changing shape of our attention as it’s influenced by each nuance of what’s going on? The words and concepts flying back and forth? The tone, rhythm and cadence of voice, the setting, and even the time in relation to all other recent things that have been happening.
Obviously we can say that something very good and worthwhile is happening with our attention during such a fruitful and juicy conversation.
Now reflect on the same sorts of questions during some kind of awkward encounter. In such a circumstance attention seems unable to wander off into better territory. We’re somehow masochistically bound to endure whatever misalignment is clearly present in the situation. And when we finally emerge, released from the tendrils of situation we shiver and try to shake the memory from our current attention.
Highlighting these sorts of situations in terms of attention is simply to give context to a new sort of question that can be used to filter our interaction with different parts of the world:
How did that curate my attention?
For example, we can apply this question to a social media platform like, say, Instagram. Many will be acquainted with the undeniable power that Instagram has to hold your attention. So when we ask: What sort of job did Instagram do to curate my attention?
In some sense it did an amazing job. It held your attention as though that attention were locked within an invisible vault. At the same time, the question opens up the situation up to a more nuanced answer. My attention was held, but were good things happening to my attention while it was so tightly bound up?
This subquestion gets at the real value of examining different things in terms of our curated attention. Many, would have some negative answers to this subquestion. And so the original question How did this curate my attention? Allows us to separate out important distinctions in our experience. It becomes much easier and quicker to identify things that are wastes of time. But beyond this, we start to develop the ability to peek inside the ‘why’ of such experiences.
Why did this grab my attention so well even though I didn’t really enjoy or value any of it?
This becomes a portal of introspection, and it can quickly branch off into a productive exercise that helps a person identify all sorts of inequities in their daily life. Beyond this, it also enables a person to start thinking and developing a mental alarm system for avoiding harmful things that can function like traps for our attention.
From a higher level, it shows just how powerful the concept of a question is when it comes to the direction and curation of our attention. Be sure, questions are not immune to becoming harmful traps for our attention. Any existential crisis is most likely borne of being unable to answer a bad question when it’s accompanied with an inability to move on to a better question.
(As a side note, Episode 843 entitled “The First MetaQuestion” explores this sort of issue involving bad questions more fully)
It’s only natural that this episode now commit to it’s own message and ask you:
How well did this episode of Tinkered Thinking curate your attention?
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