Look at me in the Eye: Assessing “Attention! Why and How to Control Your Mind’s Most Powerful Instrument”
My mother was our primary caretaker and my father was the breadwinner in our family. I must have been about 4 years old when I greeted him in a very cursory manner when he came home one evening as I continued assembling my legos. He set me aside and taught me a crucial life lesson: “When you greet people, look them in the eye and acknowledge them with a genuine hello.” The video alludes to this issue. While I do not believe that things are fatalistic as it implies, I believe that there are fundamental truths in it that we cannot afford to ignore.
Harold Rheingold’s article reminded me of my father’s lesson as does the video above. I think we are losing a sense of connection because many are tethered to their phones or laptops. Technology is an essential part of our lives and we do need it to thrive; however, we need to use it mindfully as Rheingold very deftly explains.
I’ve observed people scrolling through their cell phones rather than genuinely acknowledging others and I will be honest: it bothers me. Live human beings are our most vital resources and we need to start acting that way. I see people with their eyes glued to their phones instead of engaging in conversation even at special events like weddings. The phone becomes a crutch and again, that raises my ire. Moreover, social media and texting can also have antisocial effects. I am all for witty quips; however, nothing beats often vulnerable, face-to-face communication.
Rheingold’s analysis of multi-tasking is fascinating. I immediately thought of mothers who can feed a baby, pay a bill and check their emails almost simultaneously. They have a unique filter that enables them to “toggle” back and forth among their activities without dropping any balls. They are amazing people.
Rheingold’s words are powerful because he assesses the attention economy from a cognitive and neurological approach. This passage was very impactful:
When you shift your attention, there is always a short interval in which you must reorient, refocus and filter out competing information in order to move from one stable theme to another, whether you move from remembering your keys to saving your [crawling] baby, or from working on a report to reading your email. Cognitive theorists cal this temporary disruption the attentional blink.Chapter 1, page 39
One problem that I observe and that Rheingold addresses is that it takes time to re-orient oneself to the task at hand. I have seen many students and co-workers fall down the Rabbit Hole of social media. Time is a precious commodity and we need to use it wisely in order to accomplish our tasks and be productive members of society. I myself am guilty of becoming entangled in “the Web.” I need to put my iPad away before the “task” of falling back asleep because it sets my mind on a roving romp ranging from work and school obligations to the latest makeup trends!
Maintaining a sense of purposeful intention is extremely important (Chapter 1, 43). The author’s exhortation to engage in meditative practices while one is online was electrifying for me. The idea of developing a “pedagogy of attention” is very provocative (Chapter 1, 62). Specifically, Rheingold speaks about paying attention to breath while engaging in tasks. I would have never thought of this because to me meditation belongs in its own separate box and there is an assigned time for it. Oh how wrong I was! The mere idea of joining the meditative self with the cognitive self is such a revelation and I am excited to practice it! The idea of “managing attention” rather than “managing time” is enlightening (Chapter 1, 74).
Be a Proactive Member of the Class: Assessing “Participation Power.”
Rheingold’s article reminded me that we, as ordinary members of society, have tremendous capital to share in the information economy. He refers to the social media bursts that led to the powerful Arab Spring (Chapter 3, 111). The idea that each of us can be reporters is extremely empowering and the results can be staggering.
Rheingold talks about the importance of blogging as a participatory event. I have found this to be true as part of my experience in the M.A. in English Writing Studies Program. It has helped to solidify my opinions and viewing others’ blogs has changed my mind on certain topics, on multiple occasions.
Moreover, sharing information on social platforms is generative and anything but passive:
The activities that interest-driven groups engage in involve more serious learning and deeper involvement in the crafts of their subculture, generating more specific and specialized roles, methods, products and tools– what Ito refers to as the genre of ‘geeking out’Chapter 3, 119.
Our voices have true power and this fact is self-empowering. I was absolutely enthralled to read about “real time news curation.” (Chapter 3, 130). I do agree that there is a need for careful curation and fact-checking and constant re-assessment. The notion of a rapacious news-consuming society is addressed by Denzel Washington in the video I posted above. Intelligent and careful reporting is crucial and we should take power into our own hands rather than being passive consumers. I commend those who have taken on this mantle of responsibility.
Furthermore the idea that we can curate PLN- Personal/Professional Learning Networks is absolutely stunning. I was a heavy skeptic of Twitter before I became a heavy user (thanks again to the program). As described by Rheingold, it has a great capacity for sharing ideas and mobilizing causes. There is one new feature of Twitter which makes me feel like I cannot blink: Autorefresh! Give us a second to read, Twitter, before flashing new posts. It is extremely frustrating and to be perfectly honest, I wish that its largest shareholders would relegate it to the rubbish bin.
Rheingold very aptly informs us an often dark truth: we are leaving Hansel and Gretel’s digital breadcrumbs whenever we logon (Attribution: digital breadcrumbs is Dr. Zamora’s term). Our information has incredible value as our information is stored and sold. Additionally, as Dr. Zamora pointed out in our first class meeting, this may have the effect of limiting our realm of experience/intellectual risk if we only select the material that we are fed due to algorithms. I think that once we know this, we can make active choices to vary our Internet diets and search out new modes of learning and consuming.
The fact that our information is consumed also raises the crucial, concomitant issue of privacy. It reminds me of the ongoing Shrems case. https://www.huntonprivacyblog.com/2019/07/10/the-schrems-saga-continues-schrems-ii-case-heard-before-the-cjeu/ Facebook is incorporated in Ireland. A European Union user of Facebook, Maximillian Shrems, fought Facebook for not adhering to EU data privacy laws and allowing for the sharing of his private information. Facebook’s argument was that their privacy laws were embedded in SCCs (Standard Contractual Clauses, side note by me: who reads those and where are they?) As argued by FB, Shrems was on constructive notice of the forum’s more expansive privacy protocols. The first outcome of the case was: tough luck Max! As I said, the case has been on the legal ladder for a variety of reasons and we still have to stay tuned. What is most striking to me when I regard the case is that before law school, I thought that privacy was an enshrined constitutional right. Without going down the Rabbit Hole of privacy cases, I will make one succinct statement: in the United States, privacy rights are all relative (unless you are in the realm of healthcare, where there are clearer markers and greater stringency).
But let’s leave Max alone for now and go back to Rheingold. He encourages us to be active participants of Internet fora because our voices are powerful and we can learn so much from each other. I whole-heartedly agree with this. But like Eddie (video above) sings, there is a dark side. What happens when people rise through fora to become influencers? This is something that people making a GREAT living doing and honestly, I could have never imagined it in 2000. I question whether or not such individuals are motivated by the dollar to promote products, rather than their own honest opinions.
We need to be careful and not blindly follow trends. This issue is also discussed in the opening video at the top of my blog. As Rheingold suggests, as long as we continue to be judicious, level-headed netizens, we should be fine. However, I submit that this requires vigilance and a healthy dose of skepticism.