IMHO: Outrage and Attention are Toxic Forces.
I’m concerned, frustrated, angered, and put off by the powerful forces of Outrage and Attention Seeking.
Outrage shuts down reason, short-circuits debate, shames people into extreme viewpoints, and drives us further from each other. Outrage is part of the the giant crowbar that’s prying the Left from the Right, the “Woke” from the Square. Our clickbait headlines seek to fuel outrage, not inform. It’s a chain reaction leading to explosion, each of us getting more outraged at the other until breaking point.
The runaway desire for attention, and unbalanced, extreme acts of seeking attention, splits us into multiple personalities. The core self, far removed from the external, curated, distorted self delivered to the world at large. We struggle with internal chaos, feeling lonely and cut-off. And it’s also a chain reaction. We fear not being noticed over the clamor of everyone around us, so we get in there, shouting for attention. We naturally desire to be noticed, to be special, to have our lives mean something. These desires are being twisted into toxic attention whoring.
Perhaps this is the lot of connecting everyone. The internet means we all have a voice, we’re all on the same platform. A negative effect of this equal access is the drive towards creating outrage and seeking attention.
Happiness seems to depend on being an integrated person. That is, having all your facets, interests, and experiences add up to a cohesive whole. Mental turmoil comes from incongruence between parts of yourself. For example, “I’m getting all this attention for my awesome outfit on my Instagram post, but I felt deeply lonely that day.” I’m getting attention but I’m not getting connection, meaning, impact.
The constant state of outrage clouds our judgement and drains out willpower. The runaway clamor for attention splits us into incongruent parts and fills us with fear.
Where do we go from here? How do we restore balance? How do we bring the clamor for attention back to a balanced expression? What checks and balances can we put into place? And what’s better things to strive for?
Here’s a few ideas:
Seek Impact, not Attention
A congruent life willed with meaning relies more on having an impact on people. To me, Likes on social media seems like a terribly bad measure of impact. Personally, a deep connection with someone or something that you impactfully improved for the better, in a way you can directly see and point to, unambiguously and factually, is a great measure of impact.
See, your measure of impact must be falsifiable (like any good scientific theory). If it’s so vague that I can’t prove whether you had an impact or not, then its no good. “Oh look I had an impact on thousands of people cause they’re all now feeling inspired by how much of a living artwork I am” is impossible to prove wrong. “This person is now working a steady job and planning for the future after I helped them get out of a shit relationship” is easy to prove wrong. That’s why the latter is a better measure of having an impact.
It’s a common trick of tech companies (aka my industry) to claim impact in ways thats impossible to prove wrong, so its just a shitty measure.
Nationalize Social Media
OK this is way out there, so bear with me. Many parts of social media can be considered a public good. Why not recognize it as such as provide it the same way we provide physical infrastructure in our world.
I know this runs counter to our current distrust of government, but, perhaps social media should belong to the people rather than have people belong to social media corporations.