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September 26th, 2020
Candlelight is inherently fragile. We protect it with every imaginable design of lantern and for reason that requires no explanation. It’s so fragile that when asked to picture a candle flame, it’s impossible to keep from seeing that flame snuffed out when someone suggests the idea. But hold that candle flame to a bone dry forest and it’s hard to imagine a forest fire getting snuffed out.
Attention functions more like that candle flame. Every little distraction risks snuffing out our ability to focus on the task and subject at hand. And modern culture, supercharged by technologies like social media is a perpetual rain of distractions delivered by machine guns designed specifically for the task of making tatters of our attention and ability to focus.
We do, though, come across some instances when attention feels somewhat invincible. This is often referred to as a flow state, and this term has a crisp wholesomeness surrounding it. Flow state has a reputation of a holy grail in the culture of productivity. But there are other similar instances that perhaps aren’t so productive. When immersed in a video game, or even just scrolling. Who is to say that it’s not a flow state? While scrolling for an interminable amount of time, we are focused, and undistracted from the task, though the task itself is itself a patchwork of competing distraction. That of course is the point: much of social media is an ecosystem of competition that evolves more efficient forms of media and content to grab and hold our attention.
Such social media doesn’t so much snuff out our candle flame of attention as it does light the candle with a flamethrower and obliterate the ability to direct focus while consuming all reserves allocated for attention.
Becoming aware of social media’s spell is in fact an ability to get distracted from the act. While many think that mindfulness and meditation is the ability to focus exclusively on one thing, it’s in fact better described as the ability to mindfully distract yourself from what’s consuming your attention whether it be social media or simply a train of thought and then step back from the situation to take in a wider slice of what consciousness is exposed to.
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