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Living and Dying in the Attention Economy

It doesn't have to be so deadly

Everybody wants to be seen. The drive is unavoidably hammered into our DNA. But capturing anyone’s attention, even for a moment, is quite the challenge these days. So, it’s no surprise to see the extremes people go to satisfy this hard-wired need.

 

 

Doods climbing up the side of a multi-story condo complex to demonstrate their spring break prowess. • Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Pulsing with an evolutionary mandate to earn our place in the safety and strength of the group, we are compelled to make a contribution.

 

 

Hipster ironically posting a dinner pic to his dog’s IG account.Austin, TX

 

Without the automatic community that was naturally built into the prehistoric tribal life for which we were adapted, we have become a touch desperate. Perhaps, even more than a touch.

 

 

Man juggling snakes atop an alpaca.Venice Beach, CA

 

With our amygdalas constantly freaking out that we’re about to be cast out and eaten by saber-tooth tigers, we scramble to increasingly obscure corners of notoriety. And alternative social groups.

 

 

Hot dog eating contest Gold Wiener winner with 77 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.Coney Island, NY

 

So chronically unsatisfied is our basic need for attention that the underlying social mechanisms that give us the ability to make healthy connections can themselves become dangerously off-rail.

 

 

Blowhard discussing European travels even though no one has brought it up.Toms River, NJ

 

We can too easily get stuck in ineffective behavioral loops.

 

 

Clueless grandma showing a stranger pictures of her 57 children and grandchildren. • Sioux Falls, SD

 

In some cases we can wind up sitting by ourselves, clambering for online fame. And even when we are “successful” there, the drive for face-to-face, tribalesque belonging is too specific to be satisfied by the love of adoring strangers and unembodied devotees.

 

 

Travel influencer expanding her audience by live-streaming her last minute.Laikipia Plateau, Kenya

 

It’s easy to miss just how pervasive a deficit of attention and belonging can be in our own lives. We may believe that we’re simply in pursuit of money, position, or awards, but what we really need is just the assurance from our peers that lets us know we are liked, included, and safe. 

The tragic irony of it all is that because the admiration we need is local and not global, even obscene wealth, household celebrity, and absolute dictatorial power can never bring satisfaction. We can not quench our thirst with goblets of gasoline, no matter the barrel price. Yet, we are burning the world to the ground trying to.

 

 

Next-in-line pushing CFO off the executive balcony. Midtown Manhattan

 

When we realize that what we really need can only be found in small, in-person groups, we can begin to build the world we all actually want where it’s possible to get, and give, the attention we all crave.

 

 

Unnamed defense Super PAC director sharing a malted with a new friend.Arlington, VA

Originally published at Boston.com

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