Jan 29, 2010

Digital vs. Human + Attention Whores?

I ride the train to work and I noticed that in a train car full of people, you could hear a pin drop. At first I was surprised by this phenomenon, I expected that when so many people are crammed into a small space it would be noisy with lots of chatter. The exact opposite is true. The only noise is the “click clack” of the train along the tracks and hum of the electronic devices being accessed on the train.

  • Palm Pilots,
  • lap tops,
  • iPods,
  • blackberries,
  • cell phones AND
  • kindle/digital readers.

People are...

  • watching movies,
  • checking Facebook,
  • updating themselves on “breaking news”
  • playing solitaire,
  • listening to music AND
  • reading books.

The amount of information that we can hold in our hands is no longer constrained by the amount of weight we are willing to carry; but rather by the amount of memory space or speed of internet access on whatever electronic device we chose to operate. We are a generation of people who have perfected how to stay busy.

This is where the downfall comes in. We welcome the new forms communication. We are excited when a new love interest Facebook friends us, blackberry messages us, or texts our cell phone. This is when we love the accessible instant gratification of communication.

But what about the times, when fights arise from “reading into” a text or not seeing any emotion in a text. Many people even have a common complaint that relationships are strained by social media outlets, becasue of inappropriate posts, messages or friend requests. What if we are dumped over a text message? Then we no longer see the beauty of the fragmented words but wonder how someone could be so impersonal. “Don’t they have any manners?”

We have created and accepted a terrible double standard.

Through all of this multi-tasking productivity, (making sure we participate in social media; Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc...) we may be growing less connected. I’m not a statistician, so I’m going to refrain from throwing out some percentage. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure I can say, without reservation, that people spend a much greater amount of their time in front of a computer screen (even if it is your cell phone) than ever before. We strive to say digitally connected, in an effort to feel connected and the time gets away from us.

“Let me real-quick read my email”,
“Let me just check Facebook for a minute”,
“Let me just update this for one second.”

These are all familiar statements we find ourselves saying. But the real quick, the minute, the one second, all turn into much larger amounts of time. I’ve sat down to do something “real quick” and noticed that an entire hour has got away from me. So I can’t help but wonder, if I didn’t have this digital draw to check, update, upload, or download– without out all of that, what would I have done with that hour? Instead of leaving some 100 character message to a friend would I have called them? Instead of reading a funny email, would I have shared a funny story with one of the people (the real-live-warm-bodies) that live in my house?

We can produce more, do more, see more, learn more, but actually communicate with one another less. This drop of personal interaction has caused us to be starving for attention. Momentarily we are satisfied, but the second we close the lap-top, turn the phone off, or lose internet service, we realize how utterly attention starved we are.

Some of you may be reading this and be appalled by my admittance that people (myself include) crave attention. Well, don’t be. There is nothing wrong with wanting attention. Attention is something that, without an animal instinct for, we would never survive as people. Think of a new baby…if they didn’t cry out and get our attention, we would never know that they needed to be fed or changed or held. Without their reminders of grabbing our attention, they would not survive.

See… its in all of us; so don’t feel embarrassed to admit that, ON SOME LEVEL, we all crave attention. This may be why we all “feel connected” when we participate in the social media, because it gives us an outlet to exercise attention for others and get attention from others.

But what about when someone exploits attention? In the section above I put in CAPITOL letters “ON SOME LEVEL” and I did this for a reason. Having balance in life and admitting we all need some attention to survive is okay, but what about those of us who play up this human insecurity? The Tila Tequilas, The Paris Hiltons, The Jersey Shore’s the Perez Hiltons, and the Reality Stars of the world (The fact that they are commonly called “reality stars” may be the root of the problem). These people, along with the whole damn general idea of reality T.V., have become the epitome of exploiting attention.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a reality T.V. junkie. I know that the shows are crap, the contestants shocking, most times uncouth, but I tune in too. It like when you drive past an accident on the road and feel compelled to look. You look because…

You’re an adrenaline junkie,
You’re checking to see if everyone’s ok,
You want the details because you’re nosey or
You look to say a prayer and Thank God it wasn’t you.

The reason doesn’t matter- the point is that you look. This rationale is the same one that holds true for reality T.V.- Whatever the reason, we look. Enough of us are tuning in and looking, that every channel, (even the usual unexploited channels, like “The Cooking Channel,”) has incorporated reality T.V!

Okay, so we all watch…who cares? Well, I bring this point to our attention (no pun intended) because reality T.V. is the highest example of what I call “attention whores.” I say “whore” because I want to emphasize that these people will do anything to seize their moment of reality fame. Those people who get cast on these shows because they are, out of control, unorthodox, inappropriate and have checked all morals, values, and self respect at the door.
(see the correlation between word choice?)

I say all of this, because, I think we should all try to remember that although we are programmed to want/need/crave attention; we have to remember there are two kinds of attention. Good and Bad. We have to remember that not all attention is good, and that we should not allow these shows, or our digital era, to desensitize our ideas of what is an acceptable avenue to obtain attention.

If we look at this digital age from a different perspective we may see that this push to “STAY CONNECTED” may be making us more DISCONNECTED. These digital devices and outlets could be successfully desensitizing us from participating in personal interaction.

Now do not get me wrong- without this wonderful thing called the computer, internet, blogging, posting Facebook, and updating, I would not be able to share my thoughts and blogs with you. So, if used with caution and discretion it is a wonderful thing.

I’m only suggesting, that like all good things, (where you CAN have too much of a good thing) we should be conscious of and monitor our allocation of time. We have to remember that keyboards and messages cannot compare to a five minute catch-up convo with friends. That seeing on another in the flesh cannot be substituted for a video chat, mass text, or group email.

We have to embrace the new changes but hold tight to the practice of interacting with one another and having conversations that do not involve typing text. These interactions with one another are where we get our fulfillment of attention. Let's just not forget that…because we do not want to end up so desperate for attention that we find ourselves auditioning for a reality show!


Everyone needs attention- we are not being egotistical by saying this. If we recognize this about ourselves hopefully we won’t have to bare it all on some train wreck reality show that we all tune into to.

Digital interaction and human interaction are not even in the same catergory and we can not grow comfortable substituting digital for human. Having 300 friends on Facebook, Myspace or Twitter does not compare to having ONE great friend you know you can count on.

So, just keep in mind, little tid bits and sound bytes of attention are okay, but there is nothing like seeing a person's face, looking into their eyes or hearing their voice...these are all things that texting & emailing can never duplicate. If we remember this, it makes allocating our energy into things that are fulfilling so much easier.


"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."-Helen Keller