Attentional Overload

The Prudentialist

The Prudentialist

Observing the world from a dissident and realist perspective. Musings on culture, politics, and international relations.

“Damn kids are always on their phones.”

An evergreen comment one can find from Gen-X or Baby Boomer observers of the youth, one that many are coming to realize just how true it actually is regardless of age. Although there are many a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer that are just as much on their phones albeit with the text size turned up to max settings.

Every form of social media, mobile game, or even our social lives connected though texting and group chats keeps up perpetually engaged, many of them deliberately engineered to keep you with as much screen time as humanly possible, everything gamified to trigger the most Pavlovian responses possible for the sake of engagement and a false sense of meaning.

The attention economy is one of the most important markets out there. Everything vying for your attention, not just your eyesight, but your mind, your body, your soul. The same of course applies to our politics, engagement, consumption, who we listen to, and what we do in terms of political action. I wanted to put my thoughts into something more concrete than just my usual spur of the moment thoughts that I put out with my fishing videos.

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Consume Everything All At Once

That tends to be the mantra of every part of our lives no matter what we do. Keep up with people you barely remember, family you don’t talk to, rely on a social media notifications or reminders that someone’s birthday is today. What makes it even worse is that we’re seemingly okay with the pocket panopticon that listens to our every word and translates this into highly targeted advertisements. If not for being “The Prudentialist” online, (and the career I’m working to make out of it) I think I’d take a similar track to many in my parish and carry phones that are no more than glorified pocket watches that you can somehow make a call with and little to nothing else. However such discipline, and by further extent the necessity of this technology in our daily life whether by employment or utility tends to make it impossible for many to live without.

This is a problem that has an odd sort of omnipotence to it, in part because we ourselves are not. Not only are you set into a situation where one must be a consumer of information, or at least have an awareness of things that often lie beyond Dunbar’s number, but one must be aware of as much as possible at all times. This comes with some significant consequences, which will get to later. I will be quick to note that you are not as guilty of this consumerism and constant bombardment for your attention, I am sure quite a few of you here at Prudent Perceptions are well disciplined. Yet even in these niche political spaces, I have noticed that sometimes it can lead to a consumptive, sensory and informational overload.

To quote from a very observational comment from a video I had made talking about the attention economy, Mr. John Lonne notes;

This is not personal against you, but this corner of YouTube is very time-consuming. Frequent livestreams that push several hours, often with guests and shoutouts, creating a network of content that is structured in a way that makes us feel like we need to consume all of it in order not to miss out. Then there is books, blogs and other stuff going on. I’m not complaining, I like having lots of stuff to dig into, but when it comes to losing hours of free-time every day it makes me question how much I really need to “make sure I get everything”. Something worth considering, given the topic of this video.

A point very well taken. I suppose it has been part of a growing crowd of individuals who enjoy listening or watching things at 2x speed, for the life of I cannot help but think that in the pursuit of wanting to ingest the content you enjoy or hear a point that might be a nugget buried somewhere in the middle, you are only obliterating your ability to comprehend information. In the comments section feel free to offer your rebuttal, but every time I try to do it I inevitably go back to normal speed. A consequence of course of trying to consume everything, or even just a network of personalities that you enjoy.

In an unprecedented age of access to information, commentary, and just even others flinging their own feces at each other in the great game of attention, we find ourselves sent into a time where Walter Lippman’s concept of pseudo-reality has never been more accurate. We exist in bubbles, and often times rely on others’ subject matter experience and expertise to help guide us on issues we’re unfamiliar with.

Outsourcing Moral Judgements

Politics tends to tell us how we should feel as well as think on certain subjects. Just as in the same way at least on paper, the Constitution and Case Law is to inform our Supreme Court how to rule, our socialization and moral teachings inform us how we should feel about certain things. However, the modern project leaves a hell of a whole lot at your feet about what to feel. Politics. Religion. Zoning Laws. Traffic. All of it, what weird niche issue have you read about today that you feel like you need an informed take on? Or more likely, who will you rely on to get a good take on the morality of the subject? Who shall take the lectern, turn on the webcam, write the first tweet in the call for cancellation or support?

Through parasocial consumption, and the inability to know every single thing going on, access to personalities and commentaries allow us to make what we feel as safe calls to rely on others for information. In this day and age however it becomes harder to parse what we could be an expert or reliable source of information. The credentialed classes have been transformed into political rubber stampers by nature of the political apparatus getting a desired result in its policy. We saw this most exclusively during the great sovereignty deprivation from Covid, while those who spoke out became politically maligned characters who have so far an outstanding track record. The same can be said though for personalities, influencers, writers, and anyone with a heterodox opinion. This of course comes with a substantial amount of risk.

If there was one thing that liberals got right in 2016-2017, is that there was a pipeline, an algorithmic one that would eventually be clamped down but one that led to individuals going further and further in a rightward direction. However it becomes easier now to do the same the other way, whether that’s the horrific world or r/eggirl or being told that it’s safe and effective no matter what the excess deaths might tell us. What makes this outsourcing of moral, political, and economic judgements says more than anything, is that so many of us are fundamentally left to rely on others with information or analysis that may be possibly wrong or worse life threatening. After all, we can’t all be experts on everything, polymaths and renaissance men are a rare breed these days.

This only compounds the problem that it becomes easier for humans to default to what is the most socially agreeable opinion, right or wrong, factually or morally, be damned. It reveals that we of course we’re human, not all knowing, and often as Lippmann famously implied in Public Opinion require the rule of those who know and can maintain the system. The problem of course is, with everyone knowing a little bit of everything and requiring on those with some subject matter experience or expertise, who to trust? Who to rely on? What becomes the consensus for morality, and who enforces it? We know how it operates now, and we watch as the socially progressive in our Western societies mandate a never-ending list of updates of what is right and what isn’t, the NPC meme come alive.

The Constant Malaise of Acceleration

Our overexposure and constant need to know (Faustian, ain’t it?) has been a compounding variable to the growth of depression, anxiety, and the general unease that so many in our modern life feel at times if not all the time. By engaging with a void of screams with each scream as loud as a jet engine, we too scream into the void hoping somewhere, somehow, someone will hear us. Sometimes we get lucky, someone, or even a large group of people, hear us and listen. In turn for the average person, (your mileage may vary) the perception that they hold of you and yourself only adds to their madness of trying to keep up and you having answers. Of course you don’t, and they know you don’t but hope that you might. Making idols and gods of individual human beings, except unlike the Triune God, humans are an insecure bunch.

To quote a recently suspended poaster, a certain plane of carnal intent, Jay Jay the Jack Off Plane;

Now, everyone’s overdosed on others’ perceptions of them. This has led to an unprecedented convergence of human behavior. Everyone uses the same mannerisms, everyone dresses with the same attention to detail, everyone talks about the same things on the same cues. Few things that we do now aren’t filtered through the ever-oppressing consensus of mutual hyper-perception. Even those who believe that they’re going against the grain unwittingly conform to an increasingly optimized set of behaviors in order to maximize external engagement.

Now, everyone is Brittany Murphy in Clueless, the proverbial new girl trying desperately to fit in with the ever-changing whims of the cool girl’s clique. Only instead of Alicia Silverstone, it’s a planet-spanning silicon behemoth with billions of eyes looking in on it daily.

And that’s just the Gen Xers and millennials.

Gen Z has it incomprehensibly worse. While older folks at least had the chance to form a truly self-directed idea of themselves before social media shattered it and replaced it with a crowdsourced facsimile, Gen Z has known nothing but the machine.

Even now in this current age of conflicts, disinformation, state and non-state actors, trolls, and Lord knows who else, it can leave people permanently attached to the machine because of the desire to know. Is the world ending? Do millions really have to die? Have we become so laced in irony or the desire to be on top of things for our latest take or latest outsourced moral judgements that we lose track of ourselves, and that pocket panopticon becomes nothing more your own life support device? In a desire to know and to be the one who can piece it all together at the end of the day, we accelerate the permanent attachment to the machine itself. Unless we can provide to the very people who listen to us, an offramp, I worry that for many this may be mechanism for their continued malaise.

One might ask reading this, “Matt, you clearly don’t think the people who read and listen to you are as gullible or ill-equipped to handle this? Are you really talking about average, ordinary people?”

To answer this I think many people have issues with being online all the time or taking a break to focus on themselves. Soulful and mindful procrastination is indeed like masturbation, sure it feels good, but at the end of the day you still fucked yourself. And if you’ve fucked yourself with regards to your soul, I have some news for you.

Problems Everywhere, But Solutions?

Whatever troubles we may face today, even the ones that send me into a worry on this Earth like that of nuclear war, are no match for the question of what comes after. I leave this point here to think about some way of solutions and acceptance of what we deal with on a daily basis here. We may not always know what will come, even if we can have a good idea, we are beset with takes and outrage porn, our own man made hell of modernity. However the overwhelming amount of information that we are hooked to through a digital IV to the brain should give us a call to realize the very basic fact that we cannot solve every problem.

One of the reasons why I think we see the left (and to some extent the right) in such a state of continued frenzy and mental illness is that it’s a byproduct of the perpetual motion machine of their ideology. Perpetual revolution, nationalization, globalization, deconstruction, dismantling, language that requires you to keep up to date and in constant lockstep with the dialectic. I’d rather you, dear reader, not find yourself in such a path of self destruction. Their pride of being with “it” leaves them in constant despair.

To suggest a partial solution to this constant overload of information and very real transhumanism, is to simply keep the mind calm and look inward. If there is a real reason why Jordan Peterson took off originally, not just for his “free speech” politics, but because we have become so attached to the perpetual motion machine of politics and the culture war that we feel soulless and empty in the wake of a world that has made it very clear that the quality of life of your parents and grandparents will not be accessible to you; so dance monkey, dance! Time away from the news, the bird app, and the culture war writ large is not me telling you to give up, retreat, or homestead in Uruguay. Rather I am saying you must be mindful of how much you can take, and how much you’re willing to consume. Focus on what you can do both locally and on yourself and family, and go from there. To be perpetually online, or to be dreading over the latest bit of news, it does temper you to the reality of the world out there, but it can leave you broken and addicted if you are not prepared.

There is a very thin, if not nonexistent veil between your online self and who you are in the real world. Grounding yourself in what you can do, knowing your reach, and a responsibility to yourself and what you want to accomplish matters in the end. We are besieged daily by the enemy, and he manifests himself quite nicely on the internet with temptations, doom, and attractive avenues to escape a healthy lifestyle for moonshine HRT and internet blood sports. I can admit in full honesty that I don’t have the answer to this problem fully, nor do I have the pride to say that this is the only solution. But if you’re going to deal with the sensory overload of information to your attention span, harden yourself.

With St. Silouan in mind;

“Keep thy mind in Hell, and despair not.”

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