Tag Archives: Attention

Everything that’s wrong with personal computers

Okayokayokayokayokay. Yes. I owe the fact that you’re reading this to the same personal computers I’m about to abolish. I’m sure there’s a great deal of good coming from them. And I mean PC’s, laptops and smartphones as well. But before we as society have completely disappeared inside our close companions, let’s take a little step back to look at the damaging part of computers and our relationships with them.

They’re flat (even the yoga-ones)
Some days ago, I flew over Paris at night, and for the first time in my life recognized a city by its lights, while flying above it. Then I thought that it seemed as though I was looking at google maps. Then I thought of how much this didn’t look like google maps at all. Very much. Real life is so incredibly more striking than the screen, even if you have to stretch your neck into a cramp to perceive it through a tiny airplane window. Suddenly seeing the Champs-Élysées with my own eyes reminded me of that.

They demystify
In real life, miracles are something you cherish, something exceptional, something that feeds the life inside you, something you breathe. Building a friendship for example. Computers give us access to an endless flow of cute cats, beautiful women, great inventions and unlikely basketball points. But they’re not special! You will never see someone on the street or even in a theatre dance as well as you saw them on youtube, or hear a better song. So we keep watching, turning the exceptional into the norm, and making the normal unattractive. Seemingly unattractive.

They hypnotize
Yes. I’m fairly sure that there’s actual hypnotization going on when we face a screen. Why else is it hard to stand up and walk away? Computers, with all their imagery, sounds and repetition hook us stronger than Coca Cola ever did. What’s more, I believe that working with several tabs or windows at once, actually fragments our minds. It creates the feeling of having a pile of tasks to attend to. That causes stress. Anxiety. It scatters your attention. As if you’re talking to a hundred people at once. O, wait, you are.

They make mistakes (and you get the blame)
Some say machines don’t make mistakes. Well, sloppy programs sure do (not that I can write them better). In the past months, I have spent at least a week on phone and e-mail to correct wrong transactions, fix technical issues and create new categories for my particular case. If more and more of our data get registered and uploaded, that means that more and more of them get mixed up in some administrative system, which bounces it on to the next. And as the gear wheels of those machines keep turning, they suck our identities in untill we’re completely stuck. And of course we’re not the ones to benefit from that, we just have to fix it. More than anything, it’s a problem for elderly people, who are already in deep water when it comes to the digital status quo.

They disempower
To give an example: some say social media give people the chance to bypass the traditional media which are controlled, edited and censored by an elite. It has been true for places where censorship was high. For a bigger part, however, social media follow the already established entities, who know perfectly well what to say and how to build their capital of followers. Indeed, the algorithms of social media have the weak feed the strong. A new capitalism of attention. The big ones casting shadows over the small who hope to be heard, but are silenced by the noise of their soulmates. Thus, they waste time in virtual life.

 

Ha! Writing this makes me sound old. Yet I always had my reservations (and attractions) to computers. It is clearer to me again, now, how important it is to take time off the screen. Watch the brightness of the sun. Smell the smog on the streets. Hurt my head on a low ceiling I didn’t know before. And luckily, that actually works. Joy cannot be injected through the eyes. It arrives when you are in motion, rushes through your veins when your heart pumps wildly. Spring is coming.

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Education

People sometimes use the word education when in fact they mean brainwashing. I’m quite sure that most people who do that are not aware of the fact that they do so because they have been brainwashed themselves.

An example: “We should put more funding in education of African countries so that they can build a democracy from the bottom up”. Great idea, but how would this look in practice? Money would go to certain organizations, monitored by their funders according to Western standards. They would employ people to build education programs, benchmarked along Western thought, then train people to teach the deep truths that stand at the base our beautiful democracy, powered solely by light and guided by the highest ethics. Then, at the end, of course, they are checked for optimal performance.

Such structures provided by nation states are often seen as education. Mandatory programs, packages of concepts, knowledge that is transferred and tested, ranking the students into their overseeable life paths, may lift society to a different standard, but they are only a limited part, a controllable bit, of a collective learning process that could also be tuned to enlivening, respect and curiosity-driven exploration of whatever it is that the human mind is eager to find out. I would say real education starts at the point where teacher and student receive the space and the freedom to show each other their views on reality in all its colours.

Transmission of knowledge is important, but we should honour the pathway through which this occurs. That pathway would in my view be called mutual trust. The possibility that another might see something out there which you don’t, not because he or she is more or less capable or suitable to see it, but merely because that other stands on a different position. Exams and profiles undermine such trust.

To translate this back to the omnipotent West, perhaps indeed, there was a time when our long fought for ideals made sense and empowered society at large. But these ideals are starting to take the form of dogmas, heritage we should protect and keep in place with tighter rules and regulations. Our knowledge is growing old, expiring, starting to fail us and begging for fresh inputs from the same societies we have kept in the enlightened dark for centuries.

And yet more importantly, I think we should all allow our inner wise guys to sometimes shut up and listen to the voice of the weak and silent for a change. The fact that we still understand education in a top-down way, taking all these quality checks for granted, shows us a whole lot about our status quos. If only we could see that in the mirror…

Fear Spiders

If I dream about fear, my own fear, it is often embodied by a poisonous spider. The spider in my dream frightens me especially on moments when I cannot see it.

In real life, spiders only scare me if they are larger than my hand and faster than my arm. In dreams they emotionally disrupt me. They often co-occur with the collapse of my house. In a recent episode, there are giant moths involved, about 30 cm long, which have been eating the foundations of a wooden top floor. They live symbiotically with a black widow in her nest made of half composted, tar-smeared branches. The spider is hiding somewhere deep inside, behind the eating larvae which quickly evolve and fly off. I know I will encounter it when I clean up this nest. And it won’t be happy.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who, albeit below the surface, has a fear for spiders. I do wonder what causes that because honestly, they’re not that dangerous. Only a few exceptional specimens could kill you, but you’ll have plenty of time to find the antidote. It would make far more sense to dream about poisonous snakes or about an aircrash or a bulldozer falling un top of me, because those events are far more threatening. Why the spider?

A spider is generally blackish and has eight legs with which it runs rapidly and with a very light tread. More often, it sits still, hiding in a dark corner, or somewhere on its self-built sticky and artistic web. Most spiders have beautiful patterns on their back which deserve a better look. They are hunters. Top of the food chain. Prevent the blood from clotting, then suck their victims dry. To humans mostly harmless.

My mom and sister used to panic when there was a wolf spider in the house. Motioning after them, I did too. As the man of the house, I had to gradually learn that the easiest way to get a spider out of the bathtub, is to let it walk onto your arm, get outside and push it off the place of your body were it felt comfortable to stay. A spider is most scary when it runs, because we don’t know where it is going. The aspect of the unknown. I think her sudden speed also reflects the suddenness with which our fears present themselves to us.

Do spiders in my dream reflect my mothers fears from when I was a kid? The explanation is interesting in combination with the collapse of my house. The loss of control over my limited, constructed understanding of myself and reality. Is this fear culturally inherited? Is it psychologically entangled with the cognitive challenges of our childhood?

There’s another hypothesis I’d like to propose; one of more mystical nature. It’s connected to the number eight. The sacred geometry of it. In semi-dream mode I sometimes have visions of octangular, tunnel-like structures that seem to be a passageway to a certain insight or to my subconscious. The vision sometimes evolves into spider shapes, and even into highly detailed images of spiders with nice, colourful back patterns and fangs. It seems meaningful sometimes, as if these spiders have something to do with the access to my subconscious. Hiding in the dark, unknown corners of my mind.

The spider. A small, powerful entity that makes our imagination go wild. One day, she’ll trap the bug that ate from my corpse.

Off the Net

I have made writing into my duty. No. Life has made my duty of writing . That´s closer to the truth. Or is that last thought just my way to hide from myself that I am addicted to writing? I get itchy when I don´t for a while. As if I’m cheating my responsibility.

A group of friends and I have been chilling out and running through Heidiland for the last couple of days. There’s no internet. We swim, we eat, we drink, we climb and lavish on life. Meanwhile, a part of me feels the need to make an unknown contribution. It has been several weeks since I´ve taken up the pen, and now that it´s touching my notebook again, it feels as if a certain amount of built up pressure naturaly releases itself into the paper. At the time I wrote down the title, it felt as if my nervosity was linked to the fact that we’re without internet access for a week, but the stream that just opened between my belly and the paper reveals otherwise.

The more general thing is that I need to feel usefull.  Establish something. Add some value to life somehow. Being in the richest country in the world, surrounded by the ideal of succes, adds the feeling that I’m doing it wrong. And not being able to participate in my daily reality doesn´t make it easier.

I think that being usefull to the wider society is tempting because it is a morally responsible way of distracting ourselves from… well, from what actually? Our inner contradictions perhaps? Our obsession with solving them? From thoughts that emerge out of the darkness? From the actual darkness? Then again, I believe that real usefullness also confronts you with the darkness you try to run from. As a way to devour it. Digest it.

I expected I was missing my life and that internet was a way to access it. Yet what I was missing in this case was the feeling of pen on paper. My way to contemplate. What I needed to see is that I had to adjust to a different kind of balance: that of a group on holidays, where all of us have to look for our own ways to put our talents into practice, while the mountains make us feel small.

Being off the net together symbolizes that. Facing your life from a distance. Confronting the question of use. Reinventing the answer.

Social media do not a prison make, nor avatars a cage

The demonization of social media is a trend on social media. Social technology causes isolation, leads to blind consumption and causes blood and explosions. People have coined terms like iDisorder and mobilegeddon, and some even blame global environmental issues on the blind indulgence in cyber illusions. We have witnessed a collective behavioural shift and are shouting that out to the world.

I was in my adolescence during the coming of mobile phone age. Some of my classmates had mobile phones, others did not. I personally was against it. Imagine. We had that option back then. Nonetheless, I remember having a conversation with one of my teachers, where I told him that I thought it would be easier to date girlfriends with a phone than without. You could just ask their number, send them a text and go out. The thought seemed to surprise him.

Of course, there aren’t many things more annoying than people checking their phone all the time when you’re having diner, or strangers who bump into you on the street because they are not looking (this happened to me). And if it’s yourself, yes, it’s exhausting to deal with having countless pages open twenty-four seven. But I believe that’s a phase. There are barriers to overcome, and yes, that needs effort. We are forced to learn to deal with this increasing pressure of information. We need to jointly establish proper codes of smartphone conduct. We need to master our new gift.

One field of this debate where I fundamentally disagree with the main stream is on the question: is digital contact less real than physical contact? Many suggest that it is. Consider this: whose face do you see when you look at someone’s face? Does the air blur your sight? Do your eyes change their shape? If you touch? What more is it, really, than a stream of electricity from brain to brain? People say social media distract us from reality, but physical appearances equally do. Don’t we like beautiful young women more than ugly old ones? Aren’t we more likely to believe deeper voices than higher ones? People wear masks in real life, which they sometimes release on the net. It might sometimes be easier to have real contact with people on the web, because distractions there have different shapes.

I perceive it almost as my duty as a writer to state that sometimes, a carefull selection of words in a text can be more physically stimulating than a kiss. What I want to say is that real contact is not dependent on physical circumstances, real contact is a joint choice. It’s about the attention you give.

The power of social media and smartphones is not that it provides us with illusions. The illusions were already there. The power of social technology is that it actually facilitates a type of getting to know each other that did not exist before. It enables us to be continuously in touch with a large number of real, existing friends. It allows us to keep building on lasting relationships all over the world. Today, that statement may not surprise you, but if you think about it, that truly is magical.

Psychoindustry – II

This is a school.

More precisely, it is a secondary Montessori school, which is one of the freer kinds of Dutch schools, where children are supposed to follow their own curiosity and where the role of the teacher is to facilitate that. This school hosts about 4000 people, who spend the majority of their adolescence here. It’s where their minds take shape.

In 1973, Edward Relph wrote his dissertation on ‘Place and Placelessness’. In it he worked out a theory on how the place we find ourselves in shapes our feelings, our beliefs and behavioural patterns. We identify with our places, and partially become them. The theory is used by some architects, and proof for it is accumulating in psychological studies.

Take a look at the school again. Straight, squared lines, regular shapes. The rooms enable just distribution of space, equal for all students. The place is fair, overseeable, easy to cope with, efficient and justifiable to whichever authority paid it. An efficient school to efficiently educate kids into efficient members of society. It does look a bit like an industrial grid, doesn’t it?

Without looking at important factors such as the educational rules and programs of this school, or the structure of society in general, I think this building has huge impact on the development of the personalities of the younger generations. To speculate: it may increase a person’s preference for a predictable life where he or she feels in control. It may subconsciously decrease creativity, openness to the unknown and innovative thinking, but strengthen skills such as the capacity to structure data, perceiving people as numbers and following rules. I believe that school buildings such as this one stimulate more machine-like, cold and lifeless attitudes than, for example, a school composed of little huts in a forest. More industrial minds, capable of more industrial decisions. In that sense, the building fits the age.

Wiggle

In the series of ascribing names to emotions I know no name for, I’d like to discuss ‘wiggle’. Now, wiggle is not a new word, it has been used mainly for wavy physical movement, sometimes with sexual connotations when done with the ass. Yet it fits excellently.

I think that the best way to grasp wiggle is to go out on a sunny day, take your shoes and socks off, sit on the grass with legs straight in front of you, watch your toes, then move them a little. Not too much.

To me, wiggle resides in the heart. It feels a little like a flower that gently opens and unfolds slowly, thereby revealing its colour to itself and the world. But wiggle is more reserved, it has no need to show off. And it literally feels wavy, with slight ups and downs. Yet the base tone is joyful.

What can trigger wiggle? Comfy blankets, cute animals, the arrival of spring, gentle sounds, meeting lovely people. But the state of mind is important here. Wiggle can easily be buried under more intense sensations, and it can be easily spilled. For me it only really unfolds if I’m ready to receive it, give it my attention.

In essence, wiggle has something in common with Outsling, but it is not directed. It is contained. The outside world does not perceive its effects, except perhaps by gentleness or a slight smile. Wiggle is fragile, it has an unstable balance that can easily over stretch. It can be smothered and lost. Instead, when it is cherished, it can turn more subtle.

But even if carefully nourished, wiggle does not last. Sometimes I think it exists as a transition, a subtle unblocking of something that was stuck. Like a refreshing drink that releases its intensity while slowly providing gratification. Tiny sips prolong the joy, but at some point it will end. Still, if I manage to seize wiggle without disturbing it, if I let it seize me, it imprints my state of mind with delicateness. It leaves me in touch with a finespun lineament of the web of life and by that, it changes everything.

Wielding Attention

Do you own your attention? Do I have it? Are you giving it to this text? Am I luring it?

I’m on the final two pages of my booklet. The first text, ‘Revolution’ was written in 2012. I kept it close for all that time. These papers have grown dear to me. They are turning from a living presence in my life into an artifact on a shelf. End of an era. To make our final union count, I’d like to write on a subject that matters.

Attention is our most intimate tool of perception. Think about it. A nagging pain in your knee disappears if you have a good meal. Worldly troubles fade when we fall in love. An ugly face turns beautiful once we get to know the person behind it. Our attention, more than anything else, determines who we are. And yet we are so unaware of it. So limited in our capacity to use it.

Knowledge. Beliefs. Habits. Patterns the attention follows over and over again. Until bolts of insight pierce them. Seduce the attention to flow over their borders, see them from another side. Some patterns of belief do never crack. Dissolve, at most, when their container treads the grave.

Can you watch your attention? Can you see where it goes? Can you direct it? Redirect it to a place it never went before?

If I’m frustrated in life, it is because I see how many people are not free. And don’t want to be, either. Most believe they already are. There are so few who dedicate themselves to their attention. So many just wave it around, letting it spill on places where others do before them. People in the modern world waste so much of their precious, limited attention on worthless things. If I call myself a freedom activist, it is because even if I don’t know how, I need to break that chain.

Whether something is painful or beautiful, attention will see it. Jew, muslim, atheist? Attention will be with you. We blame ourselves for looking at midgets on the street. Our attention did not judge. It just travelled, as it would, if we didn’t pull that leash. ‘Stay away from that midget’. ‘Run from the weak’. If we let it be, our attention will go where it is needed.

By giving attention to the world around, senses sharpen. They become receptive. If you give attention to your garden, it will flourish. By listening to another with care, two souls will shine brighter. Attention is our pathway to bring the world to life.

Do you sometimes hold your attention in your mind’s hands? Pet it gently? Does it stay with you?

By giving my heart to this booklet one last time, I imbue it, one last time with a desire that does not sleep. I see the scratches of my previous words, I feel my booklet push my pen, I see the black ink stick here, on this paper, for as long as it will. From a far away conceptual world, I bring down images, experiences, meaning which, when I close it, will keep living as a part of me. I try, I have to try, to testify of this potential. It’s an urge that reveals itself in the interaction with this last page.

Of course, attention is meaningless. It’s a concept, like all others. Elusive, uncontrollable. Tell another he is not free, and he’ll present to you his freedom to hit you in the face. You’re a prisoner of your own mind. Hit me. But break the wall between our cells. I want them to crumble.

Have you cleaned your attention today? Thanked it? Let it wander for a bit? Did you follow? Did it come back to you? Did it bring you something?

My last words in this booklet, better make them count. A final kiss. A final breath of us together. In a few short lines, can I still imbue it with something meaningful?

How much charge can you contain before the charge contains you? How much pain do you need, before you accept this responsibility?

Do you charge your attention with love?

Winter Ramblings

Over the years, I have accumulated some subconscious rules as a blogger. Customs, so to speak. Most of them for the benefit of clarity. One is to treat one topic at the time. Another is to write the article in pen first. There are phases when I have to do effort to find a topic to write about. This week, I have gathered so many impressions and frustrations, that I’d like to break my rules and fire an incoherent set of thoughts back onto the internet. My lunch consists of a piece of precut raw brocolli of which I take bites only when I manage to lift my fingers of the keyboard.

Charlie Hebdo and his clan got killed. What a surprise. We all saw that coming for years. Is this an attack on freedom of expression? No it is not. It is an attack on insults to a religion. An over the top reaction, I agree, but a reaction nonetheless. We in the West are lucky to be able to get killed while doing the thing we love. Thousands of journalists are killed world wide every year (just a passionate guess, I admit), For saying far less bad things.

Yesterday, the ECB announced that the deflation in Germany is worse than expected. Bad news, we would say, but the European stockmarkets went up. Huh? Because investors have learned by now, that when this happens, the ECB pumps in some new artificial money to prevent a crash. Therefore, they invested their own money, just to be able to fish more out of the market later. I sincerely hope the ECB takes a wiser decision this time.

My new favourite word is Wiggle. Wiggle is a great word. Not only is that because of the sound it makes when you say it and the smile you put your face in when you do, or the feeling you get when you wiggle your toes, but also because I discovered that wiggle is also an emotion, and I’m looking forward to write an article about that one day and I know this sentence is way to long but I don’t care.

O yes, I posted a new video with my friend Michael Kailis, yesterday. If you want to kill me for it, come visit me. By the way, I just noticed I have outsling. I hate rain. Don’t expect me to reread this, just going to look for a picture now, and post it right away, breaking another rule as I go. Deal with it.

Breathshake

In the series of new names for unspoken emotions, I´d like to discuss breathshake. Breathshake is what it sounds like, a deep shaking of the breath that interferes with the actual breathing. It comes together with a pulsating fear of the loss of life, possibly that fundamental one. In fact, I´d challenge you with the thought that breathshake is a pulsating appearance of life out of a state where it is not. Appearance of emotion too. It´s probably the most terrifying fast emotion I know.

The obvious pathway to the experience of breathshake is running out of air. You can do this by not stopping with breathing out, going very deep into the water or doing sports while breathing far below your natural rhythm. The first option is probably safest. In these cases, my diaphragm starts contracting and I have the sensation of being cut off. The thought “this situation is eternal” forces itself upon me. You could call it fear of death, but I think it is a fear of never getting access to life anymore. While silence is present, a feverish tingly cloud dwells up in my upper body. I feel sweat emerge from several spots. I sense that the feeling could subdue me from the back of my neck and shut off my awareness. It never has.

Lighter forms of breathshake can occur without that I run out of air. An interesting thing that can trigger this for me is the tought of not receiving attention from a person I love. It can also happen in conversations where I feel incapable of standing up for myself the way I think I deserve. It is as if the conversation partner suppresses my self-perceived value and does not recognize my true character, or whatever it is inside me that needs to be appreciated at that moment. The parallel with being cut off from oxygen is interesting, as if human attention also is a substance we need.

The pulsating character of breathshake delivers a remarkable alteration of states of mind which reveals parts of myself to me. Fuelled with panic, short, shallow gulps of breath try to resolve the feeling of sinking away into a swamp. That experience alternates a state of tranquility and acceptance, as if the end is already there. This tranquility eventually takes over and allows my breath to deepen again. All of it happens quite quickly.

Breathshake relativizes my concerns. It can release some tensions, but it also makes me aware of my incapacity to be fully in control of myself. I am aware again that somewhere deep inside me lingers a deep desire for taking part that can become stronger than myself. The thought is humbling, but slightly discomforting too.