The selective attention faculty

2020-08-31 @Blog

I was thinking the other day, our attention faculty is a complicated device. The attention span required per input doesn’t follow strict linear growth with complexity. In fact, I’m skeptical that any growth function approximate this relation for a hypothetical human.

What I mean to say, I don’t think it’s mere function of two dimensions. Additional factors preside. This in contrast to prior intuition.

But let’s explore. Take a person of a contemporary part of the world. For many of us, the smart phone becomes as good as biomechanically fused with the body.

We become present and semi-active on two to ten social platforms; complemented by an armoury of messengers, emoticons, Reddit feeds, blog posts, podcasts, sugar, and an insatiable frenzy for streamed media.

The person likely struggles to focus on heavier entertainment forms for too long. Or at least that’s the common complaint I run across - the 10-20 minute attention barrier.

I myself have cycled through varying patterns. There were intervals of a year here or there that I struggled to read a book … any book … probably even a four-page comic feature of no dialog but grunts and sighs rendered within little thought bubbles. Although I cannot well recall the then frame of mind.

These were times beset by severe dosage of shallow information and streamed media. Ten years ago, that included Facebook.

Now I’ve long abandoned virtually all communication channels but the classic phone/text/email. I don’t ‘browse’ the internet. I don’t follow content except a handful of sources through RSS. Most of it I don’t open.

I hardly ever watch a YouTube clip. Or launch the site for that matter. The prospect feels somewhat draining to be frank.

If you emailed me a video link in the last year or two, 9/10 chance I hadn’t opened it. But do understand, I procrastinate to view even the preselected content of my personally catered backlog.

I’ve also circuited through varying combinations between the two factions. But now I’m on the far brink. And the extreme probably amplifies to severe proportion as we scale the outlying curve.

The focus mechanics have taken on an alternate course. I cannot focus on the cheaper materials, even when I pretend to want to.

If content feels shallow, the information filter short circuits. I’d sooner do absolutely nothing.

And yet I’ve nearly inexhaustible patience these days to read Shakespearean plays and varying forms of poetry. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Yet several months prior, had you mentioned the prospect, I would’ve deemed you slightly mad.

Interestingly, the prose, especially the lighter kind, has come to feel strangely plastic. And consider that a few months back, prosaic forms represented most of what I read or wrote about.

Alas, I’ve but inferred that the ability to focus follows a more intricate pattern than the mere gradient of material complexity. It’s far more selective.

You might question if any of this were not obtusely obvious? A person concentrates around one area while distancing another. Anything unusual here?

In terms of the general priority-focus paradigm, there’s nothing singular in it. But respecting casual entertainment methods, I’ve yet to assert how this device doesn’t fail to operate.

In my case, it enters a select mode among poetry, prose, narrative, lyrical, introspective, obscene, art cinema, satirical comedy, abstract Jazz, then builds camp and lingers … to exhaustion. Or until such next metamorphosis or lunar eclipse.

Is this good, bad, meaningless? I must inherently find this modal attention to be of great benefit. It is of my own programming after all.

What do you think of this business of attention and focus?

Questions, comments? Connect.