Attention Crash: Digital Clutter Will Bury Us


I wanted to respond to Rubel’s Attention Crash post the moment I read it, both on his blog and on mine. Why I hesitated? The same reason he points to: “my attention has reached a limit so I have re-calibrated it to make it more effective. I think this issue is an epidemic.”

This is far from new and its only a matter of time before people start realizing what a personal crisis it really is. I’ve been thinking about this quite seriously for years. Before I moved back to Africa for the second time 15 years ago, I went through digital withdrawl and this was at a time when only a handful of people had email and no one I knew had a cell phone, iPod, smart phone, Blackberry or multi-purpose device.

Linda Stone, Steve Gillmor, and countless others have also been talking about attention overload for awhile. RSS was supposed to help. Email filters were supposed to help. Smart digital assistants were supposed to help. What we’re left with is less help and increased frustration. What’s painful is that it has moved into our personal time. Personal time managing all of these additional new tools that are supposed to manage us.

There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not invited to join a new service, whether its a new software or web product to ‘save me time,’ or enrich my life OR new social network. FaceBook has changed, everyone says – people in our generation are now using it — its not just for kids anymore. SO. Even if its really cool, SO. I’m already on LinkedIn, was pressured into flickr and countless other services like it, have a blog, and have had geek friends hound me to join Twitter, only months before the Dodgeball fad.

The coming crash is most definitely personal. I thought it might be my overload with technology in general. After all, I have passed my two year mark in Silicon Valley. Those who have moved here from elsewhere warmed me about the technology overload crash; a time when I couldn’t escape the noise, not unlike people who can’t escape the political noise if they live in the heart of D.C. It becomes an integral part of your life, like it or not.

As Steve points out, “Human attention does not obey Moore’s Law.” Numerous people have suggested I read The 4-Hour Workweek, which I hear is another 80/20 rule book. Also not new, but helpful to be reminded how essential it is to follow the 80/20 rule for greater balance and increased serenity.

Now there’s a word that barely comes up in our daily vocabulary: Serenity. Wikipedia, started and expanded initially by early technology adopters, refers to serenity FIRST as an absence of agitation, then lists Princess Serenity, the protagonist and title character of the metaseries known as Sailor Moon, Serenity Rose, the protagonist of the comic of the same name and Serenity Wheeler, a character from Yu-Gi-Oh. HUH!! This grand list first opposed to words that might actually create a serene physical response upon reading them: tranquility, calmness, peacefulness, quietness, stillness.

Funny how the mind works.

It’s important to be reminded of tips that bring us back to the 20% list of priorities in our lives, but I also think its important to be reminded to add 10% of something else: nothingness. It’s rare (and I mean rare) in business that I find someone who spends time going to that place on a consistent basis. Sure, I run into execs who practice yoga and meditate, but trying to get an A.D.D. entrepreneur consistently into a nothingness space is a hard thing to do. Many are just not wired that way.

Says Linda on continuous partial attention: “I believe attention is the most powerful tool of the human spirit. We can enhance or augment our attention with practices like meditation and exercise, diffuse it with technologies like email and Blackberries, or alter it with pharmaceuticals. In the end, though, we are fully responsible for how we choose to use this extraordinary tool.”

A book which has changed my life and I reference frequently is Karen Kingston’s “Clear Your Clutter wtih Feng Shui.” I have followed numerous steps in her book, starting several years ago in Boston. When she wrote the book, clutter referred less to digital information and more to energy clutter, which is essentially what digital clutter does – drain energy.

She refers to clutter on multiple levels, all of which take our attention away from ‘something.’ When you have a cluttered inbox, its like having a cluttered desk or home. Declan Treacy also writes about this. A clear desk equates to a clear mind, one which has space for vision and perspective.

The same applies to books, which for me, has been a hard thing to let go of…..Karen points out, “the problem with holding onto old books is that it doesn’t allow you to create space for new ideas and ways of thinking to come into your life.”

Bottom line is this: we can only concentrate and absorb so much information. If ‘old’ ideas are in our daily vision, that’s where our focus goes. If ‘clutter’ rules our lives – digital or otherwise, we become trapped and controlled by it. Imagine if clarity ruled your life rather than clutter. Space rather than information.

In addition to applying the 80/20 rule, subscribing to less RSS feeds, taking in less email and being more ‘aware,’ try a weekly hike where you are sure to hear a stream or waterfall. Try reading some Pema Chodron or others like her. One final note: paying attention to what is physically tangible and real may just make you hungry for more of it AND less hungry for new digital content.

Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
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