Windows Of Attention
|Reggie James||Sep 14, 2020|
For some reason, lately I haven’t been able to finish books. I’ll read half-way through, or 100 pages. Have a bunch of annotations. Then I just can’t pick it up again…
I don’t know what that’s about. But instead of fighting my body, I’m just trying to listen. So I pick up something else from the shelf and start fresh. Eventually something will break me out of it.
The recent pick up, in which I’m still in the introduction, is “Life On The Screen” by my bae Sherry Turkle. I truly love this woman.
In the course of a day, players move in and out of the active game space. As they do so, some experience their lives as a “cycling through” between the real world, RL, and a series of virtual worlds. I say a series because people are frequently connected to several MUDs at a time. In an MIT computer cluster at 2am, an eighteen-year-old freshman sits at a networked machine and points to the four boxed off areas on his vibrantly colored computer screen…
This kind of cycling through MUDs and RL is made possible by the existence of those boxed-off areas on the screen, commonly called windows. Windows provide a way for a computer to place you in several contexts at the same time. As a user, you are attentive to only one of the windows on your screen at any given moments, but in a sense you are a presence in all of them at all times.
— Sherry Turkle, Life On The Screen
Thirteen pages into the book, and this stretch of text made me pause. Despite being well aware of the 15 tabs I have open on Chrome at any one moment in time… it was this realization of my never ending multi-presence despite my attention never being more than one place. And yet, a reminder that my attention and the awareness of my other presences are two different things.
My fractured sense of awareness, pulling my attention in circles. Traveling between my Slack, Twitter, Notion, Gmail, texts, back to Twitter, back to Slack, back to email, pulling up the article I meant to read last weekend, to Insta dms…
If “The Second Self” described the relationship formed between man and the uniqueness that is the computer as machine, and the effects on the self. “Life On The Screen” extends this towards the self and its transformation through, at the time, a newly networked arena. Mediated by the same machine she (Sherry Turkle), previously examined.
What the quote above brought to the forefront, was the schizophrenic nature of a networked life. I’m not ~here~. I’m anywhere someone might choose to reach me. My profile sits as a reminder of my in-and-out of these virtual spaces. The algorithm allows my yesterday, to be your morning coffee read. I have no control over this…
The reverse is also true. Where landscapes of the screen imprints itself on the visualizations of my mind. The glow of a golden chest full of items in Fortnite. The explosion of a goal in Rocket League. The floating crown we reach for in Fall Guys. The best games know how to create objects of desire to chase, with the same lure as a potentially viral Tweet or TikTok.
I think what Sherry would be, and probably is currently, concerned with… is when we treat our bodily present reality as extendable and shiftable as our cooly held digital realities. In which my multi-presence deeply effects the bodily presence being perceived by those around us. Off the cuff, this sounds like some Boomer-ass-why-are-you-always-on-your-phone insight. But it’s less about being on your phone and more about our ever expanding realities of choice. Which is incredible when we think about expanding freedoms for any one person. But has the potential for deeper extraction we haven’t put into words towards.
This would begin to dive into my working belief of Silicon Valley’s primary aesthetic formed around “knowing” and how this plays out in social technologies. But I’m writing a much larger piece on this thought… so back to the nature of attention and presence.
I played around, before writing this piece, whether a browser that only allowed for one window at a time was useful. Or what would happen if I put all my apps in a single folder. So the vending machine nature of this pocket crystal would have a little less glimmer. But these trails didn’t lead anywhere too interesting. The medium is the message, and the message of this medium is clear. The web was meant to do just what it is doing now. Fracture. Pull the subconscious forward into networked space I could pour over, encode and press upon the mind, and return to. Have others return to…
It’s no wonder why the screen exhausts us. It’s a spiritual vehicle. In which my identity, speech, and body are on a never ending highway as I turn off exits towards these new windows. Moving at the speed of light I take on the form of a young technologists with all my thoughts aligned and the next window over an anonymous Tumblr poet. This shift happens everyday, well over a hundred times.
People often wonder what it would be like to be famous. Well, we’ve done it to ourselves. It is the nature of being stopped by others, through the acknowledgement of who you are. Except it’s not a unified me. It’s an ever shifting, fully aware of the self I’ve made for ~this~ space, me.
At the end of the day, the cause is so incredibly, and ordinarily… human.
We all want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be touch. We want to touch others. And we’ll open as many windows as necessary to do that.
I don’t do edits really, so excuse typos and things that don’t make sense.
Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.