Is Our Attention Fractured?

How much is too much?

In many ways, we live in a golden age of media content. Thanks to education, more people know more about more topics than ever before. And thanks to the Internet, production and distribution are cheaper and easier than ever.

It would take you a lifetime to watch all the shows and movies on Netflix. Would you like to listen to a podcast on cryptozoology? You have your choice between dozens. You can get lost at your local library, in e-books or the old-fashioned print kind.

No generation in history has had access to so much. To put it another way, there have never been so many demands on our attention as there are now.

What does that mean for us?

There’s no reason to ever have an unproductive moment. Do you have a spare moment waiting in the grocery checkout line? You can scroll through social media. Riding the bus to work? Read an article from that niche magazine you like. Zoning out while on the treadmill at the gym? Listen to a workout mix from a streaming music service.

All this content means we can consume more. In theory, that means we are exposed to more, and more diverse, stories. But do we need time to actually be able to process this information? Rather than just going on to the next book, the next podcast, the next article, the next blog, is it necessary to take some time to internalize, to place the information in context? In addition, if we want to make content ourselves we need to alternate between consumption and production.

Moreover, in child development, isn’t it necessary that children learn to entertain themselves? How can that be done if they are constantly being entertained by other sources?

Occasionally, it is only through absence that we come to appreciate the world. Your favorite food tastes even better if you haven’t had it for a year. The warmth of summer feels all the better after the cold of winter. To that end, do we need to spend some time NOT reading or listening to stories, binging TV shows, or watching movies in order to appreciate them all the more?

Is some downtime required? How do we choose between the multitude of demands on us? Is our attention fractured?

Related questions: Are we too busy? How can we maintain wonder? How do you set priorities? What makes something memorable? What are you willing to sacrifice?

How Can We Encourage Meaningful Conversation?

Sometimes it seems like conversation is a dying art.

We don’t talk much anymore. In-depth discussions have been replaced with small talk. Long, rambling phone calls are now five second Vine videos. A ten page, hand-written letter is now a text message.

Why is this?

Generally, there are many reasons for this change. Technology, in the form of smart phones and social media, encourages brevity. We are warned to avoid controversial topics as a way of keeping the peace. In addition, an entire generation of young adults have grown up online, where tone of voice and body language are non-existent.

As a result, we grow ever more isolated from those around us. People are not confronted with differing opinions. We don’t often talk to people with opposing views, and when we do it devolves to a shouting match. Violence is increasingly more common. Consequently, entire communities are dismissed and ignored.

Is it all bad?

And yet, we still crave conversation. We want to be intellectually stimulated. Ted Talks, for example, are wildly popular, and can be thought of as the first half of a conversation. The vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green, are YouTube celebrities based on their ongoing weekly video chats. So the desire exists in each of us for communication of ideas, and the act of sharing them with our friends and acquaintances.

So how can we revive the art of conversation? How do we overcome our dependency on the endless Facebook newsfeed scroll, and engage each other in an actual dialogue? Can we recapture the give and take, the challenge of ideas, the talk for sake of the talk? In short, to be exposed to new ideas and new points of view?

How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

Related questions: What do we have in common? How can we encourage debate? Are we too busy? How can we become better listeners? What do you get out of social media?

What Do You Think About Facebook?

Facebook is one of the most influential companies of the last several decades. It has obviously been very successful in growing viewership, but there is plenty of controversy surrounding it as well.

Do you think it is overall a benefit or a detriment to society?

Share why if you wish.

How Important Is Privacy?

Privacy as it relates to social media is a hot-button issue. How much you share, who can see your data, and how the social media companies use what data they collect? These are all problems that concern us every day.

Privacy or convenience?

But even beyond our social media presence, we have been trading privacy for convenience regularly over the years.  Credit card companies, for example, can track you geographically via your card usage, as well as knowing how you spend your money. We accept this intrusion into our lives because it keeps us from having to carry cash or to write checks.

As technology advances, the ability for companies or governments to know more about us has increased drastically. Our smartphones give us the entire Internet in our pockets, accessible at the touch of a finger. However, the flip side is that we carry a GPS tracking device with us wherever we go.

New artificial-intelligence devices, like Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home system, are enabling new so-called “smart homes”. They can control things like lights, thermostats, and can even be wired to connect to appliances like the stove or the refrigerator. But they also raise some serious privacy concerns, as they could potentially allow companies to listen to everything that happens in your home. It could also make your house susceptible to hackers.

Generations are now being raised with these devices, with their resulting loss of privacy. If you grew up before these devices were introduced, you may feel quite differently about them.

Different people are more comfortable than others regarding sharing their lives. Some have no problem posting every detail of their day to Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or any other social media platform. Others can be quite possessive of their own personal data.

What are the risks?

To be sure, we can see that there can be consequences to this data being collected and shared. With everything from the Snowden revelations to the accusations of targeted election meddling, countries or corporations that do not share your interests or values are abusing data.

Even if you have nothing to hide, if you are not cheating or stealing or deceiving someone, is there a certainly level of privacy that we each need? Are there some things that we need to have just for ourselves, things that we don’t share, even with our closest friends, family, or other loved ones? Or is it a shifting target, subject to social norms?

How important is privacy?

Related questions: Why do we feel the need to belong? How do you know who to trust? What social media platforms do you use? What role does technology play in your life? Freedom or security?

What Makes Us Comment On Social Media?

My proposed question is: What makes us comment on social media?

When we see a post on Facebook or other social media, why do we comment? Is it usually a visceral reaction? What makes us hold back from sharing our thoughts?

Many times I have spent 2-10 minutes crafting a response to something to ultimately decide not to post it. Sometimes it’s because I think my comment is controversial and I don’t want to offend anyone. I also don’t want to track the comment and follow up on others responses. Sometimes it’s because I don’t know the person well enough and suddenly feel it is not my place to contribute.

Often, on Intellectual Roundtable, I feel my desired responses are actually just more questions without conclusions so I don’t think I should share those. I also feel the void when I put something out into the world and no one responds. When participating in conversations in person, with strangers or friends, I am much more likely to voice my thoughts because I know I am likely to get a response.

Since I wrote this I’m going to submit it, but I oddly thought at the very end here I should delete the whole question. It feels really obvious and suddenly not like an intellectual question at all but just a way to feed the ego.

Perhaps this is why I don’t post many personal things on social media! 🙂

Related questions: What do you get out of social media? What social media platforms do you use? Why do we care what strangers think of us? How can we build confidence?