Bookmarked “Rewilding Your Attention” – Clive Thompson – Medium by Clive Thompson (Medium)

To find truly interesting ideas, step away from the algorithmic feeds of Big Tech

Clive Thompson unpacks Tom Critchlow’s argument for going beyond the ‘inner ring of the internet‘. This is the algorithmic flattening of creative work to instead engage with the activity of rewilding our attention.

If you want to have wilder, curiouser thoughts, you have to avoid the industrial monocropping of big-tech feeds. You want an intellectual forest, overgrown with mushrooms and towering weeds and a massive dead log where a family of raccoons has taken up residence.

I feel that the apex predator reintroduced as a part of this rewilding exercise is the question of time and productivity. We worry so much about demands and deadlines, that we fail to celebrate the things we have already done? Is the problem with doom scrolling actually the doom of the algorithmic nature of the feed, rather than the serendipity of dipping in? Or are the two forever intertwined? Is the answer ‘Twitter social distancing‘ or a reimagining of how we consume and create?

As Thompson himself attests, one answer is building up your own feeds. This is something that I have discussed here:

I am not sure whether social media will go away, but with the questions being asked of it at the moment, maybe it is time for a second coming of blogs, a possible rewilding of edtech. The reality is that technology is always changing and blogging is no different. Whatever the future is, standards such as RSS and OPML will surely play there part.

I like how Doug Belshaw frames the challenge as being in part about extending your serendpity surface. For Belshaw, the question is whether you curate your feeds or are instead curated:

read more widely and don’t settle for the “free.” algorithmically-curated, filter bubble being created for you by advertising-funded services with shareholders. We should be encouraging learners to do likewise. Doing so may take money, it may take time, it may be less convenient, but our information environments are important.

Beyond feeds, books and searches, I am also interested in sites like The Forest which add a touch of the unknown too.

However, at the end of the day, the missing piece in the rewilding exercise is people actually writing in a public square together to somehow celebrate the collective weirdness. I guess I still live in hope.

Liked At best, we’re on Earth for around 4,000 weeks – so why do we lose so much time to online distraction? (

The most effective way to sap distraction of its power is to stop expecting things to be otherwise – to accept that this unpleasantness is simply what it feels like to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and valuable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold.

Bookmarked How ‘Soft Fascination’ Helps Restore Your Tired Brain by Markham Heid (

Your attention is a lot like the beam of that flashlight. You can focus it closely and intensely on something, or you can relax it — allowing it to grow soft and diffuse.

Markham Heid discusses the importance of finding balance in our attention diet. He divides these activities into hard and soft fascinations.

Natural environments are just stimulating enough to gently engage the brain’s attention without unhelpfully concentrating it.
“[W]hat makes an environment restorative is the combination of attracting involuntary attention softly while at the same time limiting the need for directing attention,” wrote the authors of a 2010 study in Perspectives on Psychological Sciences. Nature, they added, seems to hit that sweet spot.
On the other hand, activities that grab and hold our attention too forcefully — books, social interactions, pretty much anything on a screen — entertaining through they may be, are unlikely to recharge our brain’s batteries. “Unlike soft fascination, hard fascination precludes thinking about anything else, thus making it less restorative,” the study authors added.

This reminds me of Michael Easter’s ‘20-5-3’ Rule for engaging with nature.

It also has me thinking about something Jack Antonoff discussed in regards to relaxation and his interest in cooking videos.

The definition of relaxation is to enjoy something that fascinates you but does not inspire you.

I wonder where things like notifications and attention literacy fit within all this too?

Replied to a bit of friendly advice – Snakes and Ladders (

Here’s my suggestion: Assume that everything everyone says on social media in the first 72 hours after a news event is the product of temporary insanity or is a side-effect of a psychotropic drug. Write it off. Pretend it never happened. Only pay attention to what they say when three days have passed since the precipitating event.

Alan, this is one of the benefits I have found in following social media via RSS. I often come upon things long after the fact. This can also be strange though when you read a tweet a week later and reply. Often the conversation has long moved on. Kind of feels like being late to a party, but then maybe it was a party that was not necessarily worth attending in the first place?
Bookmarked Simone Weil’s Radical Conception of Attention (Literary Hub)

“Everyone knows what attention is,” William James famously declared in his Principles of Psychology. For those who are not “everyone,” James goes on to explain that attention is the “taking possess…

In an extract from The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas, Robert Zaretsky discusses about Weil’s concept of attention revolving around compassion and the divesting of ourselves.

Compassion, in contrast, means that I identify with the afflicted individual so fully that I feed him for the same reason I feed myself: because we are both hungry. In other words, I have paid him attention. It is a faculty that does not latch onto the other, but instead remains still and open … In order for the reality of the other’s self to fully invest us, we must first divest ourselves of our own selves.

For Weil, attention is about process, rather than a particular product or outcome.

Normally, when we pay attention to someone or something, we undertake what Weil calls a “muscular effort”: our eyes lock on another’s eyes, our expressions reflect the proper response, and our bodies shift in relation to the object to which we are paying attention. This kind of attention flourishes in therapists’ offices, business schools, and funeral homes. It is a performative rather than reflective act, one that displays rather than truly pays attention. This sort of attention is usually accompanied by a kind of frowning application—the very same sort, as Weil notes, that leads us to a self-congratulatory “I have worked well!”
For Weil, attention is a “negative effort,” one that requires that we stand still rather than lean in. The object of this kind of attention could be mathematical or textual, a matter of grasping a puzzle posed by Euclid or one posed by Racine. Whether we do solve the problem, argues Weil, is secondary. The going is as important as the getting there, if not even more so. “It does not even matter much whether we succeed in finding the solution or understanding the proof, although it is important to try really hard to do so. Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted.” Scorning practices like memorization and dictation that impose the “right answers” upon students, she acknowledges that the practices she wished to instill in students were alien to schools in her own day (and they remain alien to most schools in our own day). “Although people seem to be unaware of it today,” she declares, “the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies… All tasks that call upon the power of attention are interesting for the same reasons and to an almost equal degree.”

This reminds me of John Campbell discussion of ‘listening to help the other person understand’:

Professor David Clutterbuck, in a keynote at Positive2012, suggested that there are 5 different types of listening:

  • Listening while waiting to speak
  • Listening to disagree
  • Listening to understand
  • Listening without agenda/intent
  • Listening to help the other person understand

In a coaching context it is easy to see how 1 and 2 don’t belong. We can probably see the value of Levels 3 and 4 in coaching and leadership contexts but it is # 5 Listening to help the other person understand that can have the most impact in a coaching context.

It is interesting to think about this alongside debates about the attention economy.

Liked The Real Hunter Biden Story Everyone is Missing by zeynep (Insight)

In the 20th century, it is attention, not speech, that is restricted and of limited quantity that the gatekeepers can control and allocate. In the digital age, especially in countries like ours, there is no effective way of stopping people from publishing or talking about this story through traditional censorship—but there are many ways to regulate how much attention it gets.

This is an especially important consideration in the weeks leading up to a presidential election, with so little time left to allocate our attention to important questions. Given the decreasing time available, what are the important questions, and how much attention should they get, and how?

Replied to Notifications are interruptions (DailyInk)

For the past few months I’ve been turning off most notifications on my phone. I tend to keep my phone on silent most of the time. I still get banner notifications for a few things, but most of my notifications only go to my Notifications Center, they don’t pop up and interrupt what I’m doing. What that results in is a phone filled with red notification dots, every time I look at it. I know this would drive some people crazy, but I don’t mind.

This reminds me of a video I recently watched from John Oliver on push notifications.

Oliver argues that there are two things that should decide whether something should be shown as a push notification:

  • Is there something I should be doing differently?
  • Is this something I need to now?

More often than not, the answer is no.

This is also a topic that Doug Belshaw discusses:

Don’t accept the defaults! On the other side of that very engaging, colourful screen are weaponised machine learning algorithms who are not interested in you or your wellbeing. While it sounds a bit sci-fi and dystopian to say so, they’re interested in providing shareholder value to megacorps by selling your attention to advertisers who want to change your behaviour.

Put like that, why wouldn’t you want to increase your notification literacy and that of those around you?

Replied to inessential: Why I Listen to Podcasts at 1x Speed (

I’m in no hurry. I will never, ever be caught up on all the podcasts I’d like to listen to. So, instead, I just play whatever I feel like whenever I feel like listening.

I’ll miss things, and that’s totally fine. But, in the meantime, I get to listen to the human voice somewhat close to realistically, with its the natural human pauses, with its rhythms and flows relatively unmediated and natural. Its warmth and music means so much more to me than being caught up.

I am going to have to think about this.
Bookmarked Media Accounting 101: Appholes and Contracts by Craig Mod (Roden Explorers Archive)

Choose active media, set yourself up to succeed by building systems to cultivate positive habits, but most importantly: Take a second to think about the contracts you’ve entered into as you go about your day. Are those contracts you’re happy with? Did you realize you had entered into them?

Craig Mod shares some notes from a lecture he shared at Yale to 70 or so publishing CEOs, marketing, editorial, and PR folks on the topic of contracts:

It’s an essay about “contracts” — and I don’t mean the formal things we sign upon joining a company or getting a divorce, but the more implicit contracts we enter into with a piece of media, software, or an application. Contracts can become proxies for thinking about “media accounting:” What we gain or lose by engaging with different media and mediums. Consider this missive a little bit of Media Accounting 101.

It is about the agreements we make that we may not always be aware that we are making. This is another interesting examination about being informed.

Central to this discussion is attention and in particular James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.


Ben Williamson discusses MIT’s AttentivU designed to measure attention and nudge users.
Liked My Photos Feel Like An Emotional Trap | Kin Lane (Kin Lane)

I feel like I have a lot more processing to do around the illness that digital photos introduce into my life. It isn’t just the number of photos, it is the many places where I put them. It is the performance I do with them online each day, across many web properties—mine, and other 3rd parties. It is unacceptable that I don’t take better care of digital self, curating, cleaning, organizing and being more thoughtful about the photos I produce, keep, or let disappear. It means for a healthier, saner, happier me, but it also reduces the vector for technology companies to get their hooks in me with their FREE storage, easy sharing, and other ways in which they monetize my digital self, and extract value from my daily behavioral exhaust.

Liked Attention Is the Scarcity by Mike Caulfield (Hapgood)

The primary skill of a person in an attention-scarce environment is making relatively quick decisions about what to turn their attention toward, and making longer term decisions about how to construct their media environment to provide trustworthy information.

Bookmarked Six Years With a Distraction-Free iPhone – Member Feature Stories – Medium by Jake Knapp (Medium)

If your phone gets in the way of whoever and whatever is important to you, don’t accept the compromise. Take matters into your own hands and design the phone you want.

Jake Knapp discusses his efforts to regain his attention by removing apps and notifications from his smartphone. Here are his seven steps:

  1. Decide WHY you want more attention.
  2. Set expectations.
  3. Delete social media apps.
  4. Delete news apps.
  5. Delete streaming video apps and games.
  6. Remove web browsers.
  7. Delete email and other “productivity” messaging apps.

The thing that bugs me is why it is the responsibility of the user to consciously choose to turn off distractions? Imagine if when setting up our devices we were asked which ‘distractions’ we want activated? I agree with Geert Lovink that sadly this is a battle we have lost, so the question is what now.

Liked How Do You Invest Your Most Valuable Asset – Your Attention? by Tim Kastelle (The Discipline of Innovation)

We make choices about how we invest attention constantly, and, mostly, unconsciously. There’s value in thinking about this more consciously. And I’m not talking about efficiency. This isn’t about making more efficient use of time. It’s about making our investments more purpose-driven.

Liked Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention by Cory Doctorow (Locus Online)

There is a war for your attention, and like all adversarial scenarios, the sides develop new countermeasures and then new tactics to overcome those countermeasures. The predator carves the prey, the prey carves the preda­tor. To get a sense of just how far the state of the art has advanced since Farmville, fire up Universal Paperclips, the free browser game from game designer Frank Lantz, which challenges you to balance resource acquisi­tion, timing, and resource allocation to create paperclips, progressing by purchasing upgraded paperclip-production and paperclip-marketing tools, until, eventually, you produce a sentient AI that turns the entire universe into paperclips, exterminating all life.