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Paying attention to how we pay attention

Paying attention to how we pay attention

There is a special type of braggadocious social post that manages to get the bile rising in the throat faster than a greenwash post from a fossil fuel company. I’m thinking of the disciplined time schedule post that says, look how busy I am, look how successful I am, and consequently, look at how much better I am than you.

Whether it’s real or not, Mark Wahlberg was a pioneer of the genre in 2018 with a brutal schedule that went viral. It features a 02.30am wake-up with ample time for snacks, prayer, and exercise.

Bless Marky Mark’s, patriotic god-fearing heart. At the time, I looked at the schedule with a mix of awe, envy, and disgust. He does have big muscles, but a 7.30pm bedtime is a strange time for an adult to tuck in.

My latest favourite of the hustle genre was a post from the now deleted twitter account of Tobi Emonts-Holley. Tobi posted a thread that started with how he has had an amazing career trajectory over the decade despite having six kids. Six kids!

The post quickly went viral with a lot of women (and men) pointing out that his achievements would not have been possible without his wife’s unpaid domestic labour. Tobi did mention her briefly, but the bulk of the thread was being disciplined about structuring your time. His schedule didn’t mention cleaning, washing, grocery shopping, kid wrangling, doctors appointments, and all the other stuff that makes a family run.

He came back with an apology.

But it was clearly too late, and his account was cancelled under the weight of his privilege and social outrage from angry women, single parents, and some virtuous keyboard warriors whose twitter bios promise “opinionated threads”. Hooray!

I feel a bit sorry for Tobi, because despite his blinkered view of patriarchal labour relations, he was coming from a long line of philosophical enquiry that says, to paraphrase: Don’t waste your fucking time.

Even the shouty Gary Vee has it right when he told a random woman looking for some inspiration that she was gonna die, so do something about it. It’s not exactly Foucault, but it hits home and reminds me of Seneca’s reflection:

“This is our big mistake: to think we look forward to death. Most of death is already gone. Whatever time has passed is owned by death.”.

In a world where 6.6 billion people use a mobile device and the average first-world user spends between five and six hours on their phone, a lot of time is being spent consuming small media – games, social media, entertainment. No doubt “connecting and sharing with people in their life” as Facebook chirpily asks us to do.

It doesn’t seem good.

Now, I know that when I was a kid, people worried about TV usage. And when my father was a kid it was radio that was a concern, and for his father it would have been newspapers. Back when Guttenberg invented the printing press people were worried about the sanctity of the written word and saw the printed word as inferior and profane.

The reason it worries me is that my daily average screen usage is abhorent and well over the five to six hour average. Just as Dr Suess asks “How did it get so late so soon?”, I can feel my vibrancy slipping past while I am staring at a small screen, in bed, in cafes, waiting for the school pickup, in the airport, pretty much bloody everywhere.

I need to pay attention to what I am paying attention to. We all need to pay attention, and be conscious that the big media companies, the so-called FAANG stocks (Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, and Meta (Facebook), Microsoft) are paying us for our attention. We are the clowns in their circus.

The great Ryan Halliday, in The Daily Stoic, talks about how Stoic philosopher Seneca asks us to value our time like our most valuable possession.

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

The idea that time is our most valuable possession is a real call back to the self. It’s a strong reminder that watching twitter storms unfold in an orgiastic and venomous pile on is a waste of time, it’s a waste of a life. That celebrity media culture celebrates the disintegration of relationship live on YouTube such that my 13 year old daughter is visibly excited when telling me Amber Heard is a lying troll frightens me. She lacks the critical analytical skills to interpret what she is witness to. In fact, our brains are not capable of critically analysing the information thrown at us in five to six hours, our evolutionary pathway has not set us up well to be conscious, to pay attention, to really pay attention.

I suspect that you don’t get Trump, Brexit, Putin if folks are paying attention. We can’t solve an escalating climate crisis, referee dispossession, a global food shortage, etc, etc if we’re stupefied and numbed by a greedy cellular muse.

Mark Wahlberg probably doesn’t pencil in an hours cryo-chamber recovery at 09.30am, but just like Seneca, the Mark Wahlberg meme schedule teaches us pay attention to our time and how we spend it.

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