Category Archives: Metaphors

Building a Better Fence in the Attention Economy

gold thumbs up

Living as we do in the much-heralded Attention Economy, where wealth is created (or captured) by harnessing the attention of electronic network users,  every connected person’s conscious (and even unconscious) life represents a little hill of gold that can be exploited by freewheeling prospectors, miners, and mining-supply merchants.

I, for one, have decided to put some better fences around my attention.  

You could say that I’m defending my attentional rights with greater intention.

Every major economic revolution begins with players who figure out how to derive exponential value from some previously undervalued resource.  Whether it is copper, silver, gold, bronze, iron, coal, uranium, petroleum, labor, land, water, energy, or information, the early winners of any new economic era are the ones who figure out how to cost-effectively locate, procure, transform, distribute, and resell a given hot new commodity at a high margin.

To get the best margin, the strongest players will often figure out a way to muscle out their competition early on and grab the resources without waiting for permission. They generally don’t spend too much time worrying about the wider impact of their resource-grabbing.

In the Attention Economy Gold Rush metaphor, we are both the gold itself and the prospectors looking for the gold — since one of the things we love paying attention to is each other (and each-other-paying-attention-to-each-other-and-so-on-and-so-on). Therefore, the best way for a company to exploit our attentional resources is to create a platform — a web site, an app, or a device — that we feel compelled to use.

The competition for our attentional resources has become so fierce that some of the best minds in the business are devoted to tracking and optimizing user “engagement,” harnessing human psychology and behavioral science to create ever-more addictive user interfaces. Even mainstream news headlines are written like clickbait vying for our precious eyeballs and sweet, sweet, delicious outrage. Given this rapid escalation and increasing fierceness of the competition, what price are we paying for letting others exploit our attention?

What is the point at which someone says, “Get off my land?”  

Or perhaps, “No thanks, I’d like to design, build and manage things for myself?”

Macraes Gold Mine - Fraser's Pit

Over the years, I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with my use of electronic media generally, and social media in particular.  I’ve experimented with various use (and non-use) patterns, temporarily constraining or even suspending my use of particular platforms and noticing how each pattern affects the rest of my life, my relationships, my happiness, my focus, my productivity, my creativity, and my wider contributions. These have not been controlled experiments because these electronic media are in constant flux, and my life has its own independent variables.

Nevertheless, toward the end of last year I reached a firm conclusion that merely limiting my use of email, social media, news, etc. to specific hours was not enough. Things had gone too far. I needed to kick some of these guys off my land completely.

At the end of last year — at one minute before midnight on New Year’s Eve to be precise — I deactivated Facebook.

Since then:  Relief.

 

This has also had the effect akin to a carb-reduction diet, where if a person stops eating bread, they eventually start to lose their craving for other kinds of sugar. Not being in the chattering environment of likes, shares and comments, when I now try to read the news, it’s so much less compelling.  News content is increasingly packaged to serve as a chemical solvent which extracts attention from the social media mines… and since I’ve kicked the attention mining company out, the news has less appeal. I don’t want to breathe in too much of those fumes. So, I’m dialing back on my news consumption as well.

Yes, I know the news lately has been recommending that I keep consuming more news. And no, this has nothing to do with politics, ideologies, or issues around “fake news.”   This is just about clearing more space in my head to do the things that matter.

This land is my land… and I intend to build on it.

 

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

Last week someone shared with me a wonderful poem, “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson.

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Context: We were discussing a phenomenon that I call the “willful confusion mindset,” which is a kind of cognitive learned helplessness where a person seems to deliberately seek obstacles to comprehension when it comes to a particular matter. This is something that workshop facilitators can face due to external factors beyond their control — politics, personalities, etc. — in and among the participants that they work with. Facilitators are also capable of triggering this state in participants if they push the wrong psychological threat/reward buttons. That’s the part I was trying to figure out.

Hence the poem.

I loved the poem so much I decided to share it with others.

One person asked, “I don’t understand this poem. Why don’t they just cover up the hole?”

Why, indeed.

What purpose does the hole serve, especially for those who seem to be stuck in chapter two?

Postscript

There are other people walking down the street, too.  Some are moving in different directions, some are operating in a later chapter, some in an earlier chapter. Some are repeating a lesson previously learned and some are just taking a break, reflecting in a private space of their own making.

All of these people have the potential to help or hinder each other as individuals… and also have the potential to coalesce or disband as an impromptu collective that will work (or not) through its own series of chapters, at a larger scale.

Not only does the sidewalk provide more than one path from A to B., but it is also a dynamic, fractal landscape.

 

Photo Essay: Breaking Through Writer’s Blocks

Overcoming writer’s block, they say, is done simply by writing.

stonewall 1

It’s kind of like building a stone wall.   Pick a suitable spot, gather some material and begin putting it together, layer by layer, one block at a time.

stonewall 2

My favorite stone walls are the ones found around southern Connecticut and Westchester County, north of New York City. I especially enjoy the ones built in multiple iterations, starting with an existing rocky outcropping and then crafted by multiple authors.

stonewall 3

From the standpoint of building creative muscles, it’s better to write and write, even if you’re just filling gaps or un-doing previous work.

stonewall 4

Because even the sturdiest of stone walls will eventually begin to crumble if nothing is added to it.

stonewall 5

Break through. Write on.

Photo Essay: Crystallization

1 - wingtip lake michegan

There’s an old bit of business jargon about a forty (or perhaps thirty? twenty? ten?)* thousand foot view.  The idea of this term is that “at a high level” you stop focusing on minutia and can see the “big picture” and make out the “broad strokes” of the “larger landscape.”

2 - wingtip lake michegan crystals

But perhaps a better metaphor is this: When you’re up in the stratosphere, untethered from the mundane day-to-day realities and barrages of information, that’s when some of the smallest ideas can crystallize and express their beautiful intricacy.

4 - airplane window ice crystals

Rather than losing sight of the details here at cruising altitude you can finally see the small, hidden possibilities. You are able to read the glyphs of a wordless language that were there all along, scratched out and buried beneath the surface of your distracted consciousness.

3 - airplane window ice crystals

So take note of what you see and what you read up there, because when you come back down to earth, it will quickly melt away and run off with the daily currents.

5 - airplane window melted crystal droplets

Photo Essay: Lens Flare

Vertical Sunbeam -308x800When we look at the sun, we very rarely see the actual sun.

We see the light of the sun scattering inside our lens.

Our lens — the one in our camera, or eyeball, or mind’s eye — has all kinds of internal inconsistencies.

When the sun’s light scatters inside our lens, what we’re seeing is a reflection of the properties of our lens, rather than the sun itself.

So when we look at the sun, what we really see is a metaphor.

We see the changing of the seasons.

We see the rolling of the earth.

We see the spinning of the stars.

We see religion and science dancing together.

We see the opportunity to grow a garden.

We see the risk of being burned.

Today I closed my eyes and decided just to feel the sun directly.

What I felt was a blessing.

What I felt was love.

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