Where is your attention now?

Our society is increasingly focusing its attention on areas that it is directed to do so by the mainstream media.

Despite the proliferation of social media and a dramatically increased access to alternate information sources, society is being increasingly homogenised because we quite obligingly look and pay attention to the things we are told to pay attention to.

How much of our thinking and how much of how we view the world is driven and directed by the agendas of others? I’m going to suggest that a possible answer to this is – An unacceptably high percentage.

Before I provide any examples however, I want to stress that I am not describing any orchestrated conspiracy here, simply that the evolution of the media and how we interact with it has taken us to a point where our thinking and understanding of what is going on around us in the world is limited and biased by the things we are presented with daily on our TV screens.

Popular culture is determining where we direct our attention and how long we do so for.

Without producing an exhaustive list that could go on forever I’ll use just a few discreet examples to illustrate the point. Having recently touched on conservation in a recent post I’ll stay with the broad theme here.

Sometime ago, the Four Corners programme on the ABC reported on the terrible animal cruelty our live animal exports were being subjected to before slaughter in Indonesia. This (quite rightly) sparked an indignant public response across the entire country and vigorous debate in Govt about the very future of live animal exports. The issue however is that the moral outrage soon subsided as our attention was soon directed elsewhere with the next piece of programming content to grab our interest. The point I’d like to make here is not that there is anything wrong with what transpired. I’d simply like to pose the  question: Once the issue left our TV screens where did the public indignation go?

The media tells us where and when to look, we then notice and react to what is presented, we then move onto the next area our attention is directed to. I’m sure the livestock still suffer terrible cruelty in primitive abattoirs overseas, but now we are looking in other places. We actually do care enough to pay attention to this issue again, but we’ll do so only when our attention is directed toward it in the mainstream media.

It’s possible to site an endless array of similar examples of how our attention is directed including the annual dolphin slaughter in South Western Honshu and the “scientific research” into whales conducted most years in the Southern ocean. (The latest round of which we are told is to establish why a whale dies when a harpoon is driven into its heart – one of natures enduring mysteries.) Those of us who become rightly indignant at the practice and post Facebook links at the horror of it all, tend to do so only while the media keeps us focused upon it – for the rest of the year we do precious little to save these creatures. (But we will look at the issue again passionately in 12 months when we are directed to do so.)

This is not a critique of our passion and belief in such issues, rather of our shortening attention spans and the way we allow mainstream media to determine what is important and when it is important.

The places the media direct our attention to vary from the very good to the very bad with the space between is populated with a lot of the very indifferent. This doesn’t constitute a critique of the media (many have covered-off that topic far better than I ever could) this is about how we allow it dominate our time, how we allow it to play a disproportionate role in the way we think and the way we allow it to shape our views of the world along with our reactions to it.

If we knew the mainstream media was truly altruistic in providing us balanced and objective content with a view to helping us to understand the world better and make better decisions, there would be no issue with it dominating our lives the way it does.  If it was, we’d be presented with a broader world view and not one viewed solely through a western pop culture lens. We’d know more about the what is going on with human rights in Venezuela than we do about Justin Beiber’s latest traffic infringement. We’d care more about the imminent extinction of important species than we know about who’s bonking who in Hollywood. We’d pay more attention to long term issues than ephemeral fashions and we’d know more about what’s going on in our own backyard than what brand of beer Shappelle Corby drank by the pool upon release.

More importantly we’d have greater control and understanding of what is happening in our own lives if we just walked away from the flat screen a bit more often and looked up and around at the real world.

/ Knowledge, News, Perception, Thinking Better

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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Current clients range from Exxon-Mobil to Government Depts within Australia to Global NGO’s.

Much of his working life has been split between Australia, the South Pacific and Asia where he has trained and facilitated Lateral Thinking techniques, and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.

Comments (2)

  1. Phil Bachmann :

    I like your points about being persuaded by what we see and unaffected by what is hidden.

    The media would say that they are just providing the public with what they want, though it’s probably more true to say that they give most of their audience mostly want they want most of the time.

    Are cows happy to be pandered to? Mostly they are.

  2. James De Vere :

    I really liked this. More choice is leading to clam-shell thinking. On a note, in 1850, just after the world had already been mapped and nations were opening up to a global culture society was quite conservative. I feel history repeats herself now. We are more homogeneous as you said. Thanks Frank.


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