Tuesday, 16 January 2018
A Mess Of Attention
I had to remove Twitter from my phone. This idea is not new for a lot of people. Hell, an uninstall rate is probably a marker of a quality app nowadays, especially when it demanded so much attention for so long.
On the upside, my mornings are much more than just the lazy scroll of a bright screen in the dawning light. I actually have to get up and out of bed to get that. I’m sure this makes me healthier. I’m also certain this has resulted in being even worse at trivia than I used to be.
The departure of Twitter from my phone wasn’t too hard. Months ago, Facebook left. Messenger still sticks around but isn’t set to notify me of anything. I’m sure Instagram is next.
Why? Because there is goodness in not knowing.
Not ignorance, necessarily. Rather, whatever it is that we’re calling the opposite of “information overload” nowadays.
Early this year I came across the Ryan Holiday blog about how this should be the year of no more news. Or, at the very least, a more controlled news diet. All the usual problems of our modern “news” environment are pointed out: the endless stream of it, the constant opinions of it being broadcast, and the total lack of need for any of it.
Of course this all makes sense. Every morning as a deluge of thoughts and links of whatever happened overnight. I was learning more about the Kardashian family and Ed Sheeran than I would have ever cared to – purely because of Twitter moments and random retweets from someone that I don’t remember following in the first place.
So, Twitter joined Facebook in the uninstall pile.
For a while, I justified having news on the phone because it was a good way to keep up on the current events that were ALWAYS referenced on the weekly quizzes I took part in with Geeks Who Drink. But as much as I kept up with things, the flood of garbage and snark that came with it was overkill.
“I would say that one of the other reasons for our news addiction is ego. Facebook and news publishers understand how much of our identity is tied up in this consumption and that’s what they manipulate. It’s this need to be seen as well informed. We have this great word now: virtue signaling. Knowing everything that’s going on in the world, having an opinion on these news stories, having the right opinion on these news stories, we believe says something about us.”
What is the point in knowing everything that is going on if the knowing of it just drives anxiety?
All of this – the infinite news, the constant updates, the notifications, the endless streams of opinions and arguments and Twitter wars. It is no longer designed to inform.
It’s designed for profit. For revenue. For advertising opportunities. The point of any digital publisher in our modern times is money first, information second. Period. If there is an advertisement anywhere on the page you can bet that the information around that advertisement is an afterthought.
The presentation of most news sources is just window dressing for what it really is: a chance to make money off YOUR attention. The more attention you give, the more money they make. You will gladly trade that attention for some content. The more incendiary, the more likely you’re going to come back for more (resulting in the chance to show more ads, make more money).
I’ve been working in the world of adTech for too long to think that everyone cares about anything beyond turning your attention into money.
So, maybe we go for something other than news?
Maybe it is time for something beyond the ego-feeding satisfaction of knowing that you know something more completely. What is the point of having an “opinion” if what you think is loosely built upon the not-so-subtle atmosphere of opinions that surround all of us, all the time, anyway?
So I deleted Twitter and signed up to have a paper delivered once a week because maybe, just maybe, that’s how news was always supposed to be. Maybe news should be delivered in fragments. Pages should end. Stories should come to a conclusive thought. Comments should be sequestered to one section that can be passed over. News should stop at some point so that we have a chance to process it and think about it and develop something of an opinion in a complete fashion.
When social and digital are added to the mix of news, it becomes less about fact and more about popularity. Good or bad, the most agreed-upon or hated upon position becomes the truth.
Imagine being the most-agreed with a person. That sounds like a drag.