002 – Attention please

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↠ Dispatch 002, September 2018 ↞

Attention please


On my good days, I am present for the wonders of life. On others, life just gets nibbled away by hundreds of pesky little things and I get frustrated. How about you?

We’ve all read the op-eds about social media and the attention economy but let’s face it, we all derive different value from being on it. Some of us thrive on the validation on our screens, some of us enjoy lurking in internet ghost towns where “no one is looking so that we can yell our secrets and be unseen and disappear”, some go on social media for the memes, some are there in the name of career advancement, but as venture capitalist M.G Siegler puts it, “the one thing I don’t think you should be looking to do there is to put your actual life on display. There are just too many downsides to this.” 

On these platforms, “context collapse” is a serious problem that starts to suck our mental energy, and ridiculously complicated algorithms that even its creators sometimes struggle to understand continue to feed us tidbits that Rolf Dobelli author of The Art of Thinking Clearly calls “bright-coloured candies for the mind”. There is no doubt that the Time Well Spent movement is a necessary campaign for today’s world.

Personally, I’ve always had an odd relationship with social media. Without the personality, desire, face, and editing skills for visual platforms like Instagram and YouTube, I’ve always enjoyed word-based platforms like Twitter, earlier iterations of Facebook, and Medium. It was an engaging and fun experience in the early days and I am often one of the early adopters of these platforms. However, recent times have seen me having no qualms of neglecting or even deactivating my accounts. In fact, I always look forward to occasionally exercising my privilege of being disconnected from the internet and the rest of  the world to gift myself the time and space to explore depths that are difficult to access in the midst of an over-engaged, everyday life.

“Think of attention as life.
Wherever your attention lands in that window of time, you are life.
Your attention is on something meaningless, without purpose to you – then your time for that window of time is devoted to something without meaning, without purpose. 

– Jonathan Fields of Good Life Project on Hurry Slowly podcast by Jocelyn K. Glei 

I’m not sure about you but I think mindfulness is a simple practice that is difficult to do. I’ve been trying to sit and listen to my lizard brain with meditation sessions but it has taken me 4 years of trying, to finally score a 30-day meditation streak last month. I can only wonder how the mindfully eating nuns who contemplate the miracle of photosynthesis with each meal, and bask in the light that fills the vegetables and herbs on their plate do it.

If there is one thing that I’ve discovered from my time trying to reclaim my mind, it is that the kind of respect that I have for this life is defined by where I place my attention. I’m also increasingly certain that it must be an organising principle for how to live, and how to work.  

When I place my attention reflecting on life and typing these words instead of scrolling through the lives of others on my screen, that is a choice about spending the time of my life. When I place my attention on someone instead of the next Netflix series to watch, that is the moment of life that I am living. When I place my attention and energy on what moves my heart instead of what moves money, that is my life unfolding.

Time is a finite resource of unknown quantity best enjoyed in full attention, and while we may not be able to make more of it, we can definitely carve a portion of it, and protect it fiercely for the things that matter. Maybe, if we are careful about how we spend our attention, we can bend time to our will. And maybe, we’ll realise that in a way, we are all Time Lords


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