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October 12th, 2020
That’s the command. But is it a directive or is it something that gets our attention? It’s both of course, but if anything, when the teacher or spouse or friend says this, it’s in order to distract our attention from whatever it’s focused on, so that we may, in turn, refocus on the correct subject at hand.
Though the word is used often, the concept of attention is a bit slippery. Is attention something we generate and project? Or is attention something that generates in order to project toward us?
Does attention grab our focus, or does focus aim our attention?
One way to begin making some sense of all these questions, each which seek to define attention in some way, is to look at the concept of sources of attention, and how this phrase is used. We do not, for example say that the source of attention was in our mind, and from that source we become able to focus on the subject at hand. It is, in fact, the opposite. When the phrase is used, it’s always referring to something outside of ourselves. It’s effortless to try and imagine the news anchor saying it:
The White House became a source of attention today when it was announced….
Language has some contradictory habits in this area. It’s the source of attention that gets our attention to focus on that source. The odd part of that idea is in the word ‘source’, which usually denoted the place where something comes from, and in reference to attention, it would seem to make sense that our mind is the source of attention we have to grant to different things in our day.
Another phrase that pins attention down a bit better is when someone does something for attention.
She’s wearing that just to get attention.
‘She’ becomes the source of attention, or rather the source which gathers and directs attention. These two phrases encasing attention in meaning work well together to tease apart where exactly attention exists.
Ponder for a moment just what an astonishing source of attention the phone is. The phone lights up, it dings, it rings, it vibrates, and for what? Each accords to a sense that we have. (Indeed it’s imaginable that if we could easily replicate pheromones, the creators of smart phones would make those phones release smells so that we could be come even more attracted to using our phones.). That’s precisely what a ‘source of attention’ is - it attracts attention.
The sound explodes from the phone in a tiny blast, shooting out, riding the vibrating air, slipping into your brain and sliding along that short well-oiled tracks to the dopamine center where it lands its barb and then tugs you in the direction of your phone, like a whale harpooned and dragged back to the ship for slaughter.
In the age of superphones and social media, sources of attention abound, and they have grown to be very very efficient with the task of grabbing our attention and sewing it into their frameworks and business models. It’s perhaps not hyperbolic to say that our limited attention is under assault and siege - the image which gives rise to the idea of defence. Other than the belittling implications of the modern school system regarding discipline, there is no formal teaching regarding the nature of focus and how we might shepherd our precious attention in ways that will benefit ourselves first and foremost.
This is a big reason why Tinkered Thinking is in the process of developing a meditation app. Yes, there are plenty out there, but there still seems to be an opportunity specifically designed for beginners and skeptics. (Follow @thetinkeredmind on Twitter for updates.)
A big aspect of meditation is simply being able to notice what is happening with one’s own attention. Simply noticing not only empowers an individual to redirect attention, but the whole process becomes a fortress for attention against the deluge of distraction that many companies are trying to flood our skulls with.
Do you have the ability to sit without reaching for the phone contently and calmly? Or is the antsyness unstoppable? What does it say if we don’t really seem to have the ability to choose what we want to pay attention to?
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