#1 Recover the pleasure of sinking into a long novel.
I’ve started serializing Kicking Dogs on this site (the next chapter appears next Tuesday). This novel is just 242 pages long. Hardly more than a brochure and, ideally, it’ll leave you wishing there was more of it.
MOM and Genesis 2.0 are longer. Much longer. But ideally, again, they’ll leave you wishing there was more. (In fact more of the Magic Circles series of novels is on its way.)
learn to out-focus a goldfish
Recover an attention span longer than that of a goldfish. In fact your average digitally connected human has the lesser capacity to focus. Never mind, you can aim to be less a victim of the myriad modern distractions that grab our minds and then scatter them across what currently pass for our realities.
script your own existence
Reclaiming your attention span means also reclaiming a surer sense of who you are. Spin yourself back into a distinctive story that is your own. See how that personal narrative can find a meaningful home within a collective narrative that re-establishes human values and ends within a world where we have increasingly outsourced the shaping of who we are, whether individually or collectively. Recover the sense of sacred quest that gives us meaning.
Many, if not most of us, live in a world where the values that shape who we are and what we want from this life are more and more a product of algorithmic engineering. We inhabit a world of nudges and tweaks where we see the inputs and the outputs of the process, while what happens in between remains opaque to us.
AI has become a black box whose machinations lie beyond the ken of any of us.
Rx: read a good novel
Read a long novel. The pandemic has blessed some of you with enough time on your hands and, maybe, fewer other distractions. Extended reading exercises the faculties you need to pay attention longer than a goldfish and to better serve as you own scriptwriter.
read MOM, for example, and Genesis 2.0
And these books offer an added bonus. They’ll help you prepare yourself for a pandemic far more terrifying than COVID-19 will ever be. For the PlagueBot cometh.
A last note:
I’ve recently bought a state-of-the-art Apple Watch. But what, precisely, led me to buy one more expensive gadget that I didn’t need?
Worse than that. What series of tweaks and nudges, and who or what made me do it? Aside from Sara, of course, who thinks anything shopping oriented is de facto good, not to mention how much she enjoys watching me commit folly.
“Don’t be paranoid,” she says.
“Paranoia,” I reply, “should be our default mode in these uncertain times.”
Whatever. Now that I have the Watch, I’m quickly discovered myself being subjected to all manner of new nudges and tweaks, many of them only haptic and supposedly all the less intrusive for that.
Be that as it may. Ever more surely I’m being woven into a techno-utilitarian, algorithmically engineered reality where Commerce and its minions ever-more efficiently see that I’m maximally happy — according to some criteria — and ever-more surely connected to a network of other citizens.
I wonder what they’ll make me buy next. And make me do, and believe and everything.
“If you don’t want to do something,” Sara advises me, “just don’t do it.”