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👀 Pay Attention
The internet has ruined my attention span but tbh I wasn't using it anyway
Hello there — I’ve had a sudden influx of new subscribers so I just want to tell you two things very quickly:
I didn’t have time to write a newsletter this week, so I am literally winging it on Friday morning and then hitting send straight away. Horrific/Terrific is usually a lot more like last week’s post.
I checked my ‘about page’ on Substack for the first time since I started Horrific/Terrific (which was like three years ago now) and fucking hell it was the cringiest thing I’ve ever read. So last night I changed it to this, which I think more accurately describes what I’m doing here.
Okay let’s dive in…
It’s okay to ‘pay attention’ to the internet, calm down
So this week I had so much client work that I didn’t have time to ingest and form an opinion on any tech news. The only thing I will say is that I’m finding it hilarious how news outlets are bending over backwards to call SpaceX’s rocket explosion a ‘success’.
But anyway, I did have an interesting conversation with a new client (so glad to be working with her tbh) about how digital products and the internet in general saps your attention. I cannot stress enough how much none of us need to talk about this anymore. I understand why people keep coming back to this, but to me — someone who reads blogs and reports for a living, basically — this is such a tired and overworked argument.
Okay so the internet is sapping my attention, fine. But what is it sapping it away from? This argument seems to assume that there’s something else out there that we should all be paying more attention to. Sorry but I like the internet, and I don’t actually care if it’s scrambled my brain — I am okay with being scrambled. Please stop inventing diseases for me.
What is this other, much more urgent, and probably higher-quality thing that we’re supposed to be looking at that isn’t the internet? Well obviously it’s BOOKS isn’t it? A few months ago I went to a talk by Alice Bennett, who has written extensively about the perceived ‘crisis of attention’ that society is currently tolerating. This talk made me realise that a lot of the people who complain about how the internet has obliterated our attention spans, are people who author clever books or very long think-pieces for legacy media organisations. It makes you wonder, is there a ‘crisis of attention’ or is it just a bunch of sad writers who are worried that no one will read their work any more? (Maybe they should try making it less boring by adding animated gifs? Just a thought)
So here’s where I’m at with all this: the rash of people who think we should put our phones down and read more are just wrong. I am fucking reading more — if it wasn’t for the internet, I wouldn’t read at all. When Harry Potter came out, I was undoubtedly its target audience, and I still didn’t read it. I was once tagged in a tweet asking me to list my six favourite books and I replied with “I haven’t even read six books in my life”. That is because I am too busy ‘paying attention’ to the internet, a place where you can ‘read’ in a hundred different ways: audiobooks, blog posts, newsletters, podcasts, tweet threads, Hacker News, hilarious Amazon product reviews, web comics, completely unhinged youtube comments. Sorry, but there’s so much out there.
The idea that digital products are infecting our minds and making us forget our own names completely flattens out any nuance. There are very bad dynamics that have emerged from how information proliferates across the web, but there are also books which, when published, captured the collective psyche with extremely damaging misinformation. Have you ever read Freakonomics?
Something else that Alice Bennett said in her talk was that we all assume that attention is finite — that it’s something that you will somehow ‘use up’ so you need to be careful what you put it on. What if we assumed instead that it wasn’t this way? I have stopped writing this post about ten times to look at my phone, but the post is still getting written and the stuff on my phone got the attention it needed. It’s almost as if I can pay attention to two things at once! I am also non-monogamous, have two girlfriends, and love them both. Whatever the ‘crisis of attention’ is, I am definitely not going through it.
Thank you for reading — interested to know what you all think about this stuff. Please leave a comment or hit reply and let me know!