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Put your oxygen mask on first, then your children's

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   3 comments, In Series: The Big Mirror
Message Peter Barus
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A couple of months ago the world was already in a new paradigm. But it's typical of paradigm shifts that nobody can understand what's happened, why nothing works like it used to.

We're not in the Information Age anymore. That happened way back in about 2014, when the Internet penetrated "the last mile" and connected a critical mass of humanity. About six and a half seconds after that, a new commodity was created from a new raw material. That kicked off a new kind of capitalism, elegantly dissected in Professor Zuboff's great work, "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism." (Go read it all, two inches thick. You have time now.)

All our trust in information got trashed. Now you can't even believe what the previously-legitimate Authorities say. Any authorities, medical, scientific, it was all called into question. To communicate effectively now, we must speak to direct experience. That's dicey, because anything in our attention exists for us, whether it's real or not.

In the early years of the post-info-age tech-driven paradigm shift, the dawn of the Attention Age, the dominant technology became computer aggregation of momentary public attention. At first this was to rescue the flagging advertising business model. Then it became the new extraction industry, for the new audience markets. It's like bronze in the Bronze Age, it's the foundation of Power. So we did not experience universal access to all information after all. We didn't get flying cars, either. (Rats.)

Instead, our cultural norms, such as the one that says our lives depend on something called "investor confidence," absorbed this change easily. Now our attention is hijacked, mined, harvested, packaged, bundled and traded, every nanosecond of every day. It burns fossils, sells plastic, runs wars and gets people elected to high offices of public trust. Well, high offices, anyway.

Meanwhile, we still expect things to work they way they did in the previous paradigm, when information had at least some tenuous relationship to facts-on-the-ground. But things no longer work that way. Now, hijacked public reaction shoots first, and asks questions too late.

The "Social" media, without those attention-harvesting machines that mess with all your search results and feed you all that nonsense, and steal all your "privacy," could be a public utility contributing immeasurably to the transformation of human society and the possible salvation of our endangered planet. Instead they are devoted to ruthless competition in the attention market for Surveillance Capital. For those confident "investors".

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898 - 1972)
Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898 - 1972)
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The word, Transformation, is beginning to appear in the literature, e.g., "Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change". This word is not well understood, but as substantive change in human behavior, it is the only way humanity will save itself, simply because nothing else can work as quickly. Cultural Evolution may catalyze such a rapid state-change. This happens like the formation of ice crystals. Shazam! Now you can walk on water. Happens all the time.

The part of language that gives meaning to our words is usually silent and unseen. There is now a lot of science about this, related closely to neurology. Take, for instance, the context of this article. What is present that is unspoken? The author's intention is to present a new view that doesn't necessarily challenge the reader's frame of reference, but might invite expansion, and even transformation. In other words, to make connections or distinctions among things you already know, so that new possibilities might emerge from an undifferentiated background. This is not just piling on new facts. You probably have plenty to work with. How effective has that been?

Here's what the author does not intend: focusing on what exists in our attention, but only there. This is being done aggressively in the "social" media, with careless disregard for real social impacts. A simple example: if I ask, "Why didn't they ask about the billion spent on toothbrushes," I've just created a conspiracy about a lot of money and surplus dental hygiene devices, out of thin air. The Internet is awash in this kind of thing. Anything that sounds like a baby will wake up all the new parents within earshot, and significantly beyond, from deep sleep. Our perceptions, real or not, can light up our endocrine systems and shut down our cerebral cortex, which is physical panic.

Today, one individual is able to induce that state in millions of people, all at the same time, with a few words. This is unprecedented. It's something entirely new to human being. And each time, the stimulus has to be worse, as we develop a tolerance.

We are defenseless against this form of attention-hijack, except in one way. Where we direct our attention is at least partly under our control, just like breathing. But, also like our attention, breathing goes on anyway, and is connected to emotion as well as physical demands for oxygen. Attention shapes reality or illusion alike.

Now the Virus is here. Whatever else it may be, I choose to see it as is a big mirror. We are all looking into it, in unprecedented numbers. This, too, is an historical first for humanity. A real attention-getter. Possibly transformative in its impact, and in positive as well as negative ways. A demagogue can't stand being upstaged, and plays his one-note tune even louder, ramping up the terror, scaring the crap out of everyone. But this is merely a sign of low oxygen.

It is time to abandon all such pretenders to power. This is just putting the oxygen mask on your own face before you assist your children.

Attention hijack is the a skill and a technology that rocketed a demagogue into power, and keeps his alarming grimace in front of our eyes every hour. I have vowed never to pronounce that person's name, and only refer to him here for diagnostic purposes. This action has inoculated me against many bright, loud signals. It's a start.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay (more...)

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