The Attention Game

5" x 7" mixed media on canvas panel
Mine is one of the final generations to know what life was like prior to the Internet and the technological boom that swallowed us all. As such, I am a frequent visitor to the library. As a curious child growing up, I spent most if my time in them. I regard them as sacred places, the one last bastion of real equality left in a time where many of our democratic institutions have forgotten the reasons why they were founded.

That said, I am admittedly not a television watcher. I read books and go to the movie theaters. So I've finally gotten around to borrowing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2 from the library. It's probably been dissected to death, but it was a great movie. I do recall some of my friends, however, taking issue with The Hunger Games books because they claimed the world depicted in the series would never happen.

"No one is going to willingly allow their children to be sacrificed in a game like that without a fight," they said. "People draw the line at their kids."

I found this interesting because The Hunger Games came across to me as a metaphor for our societal hunger for attention. Katniss is essentially a television star. She's in the homes of every district. Her struggles become their own much the same way reality television has slipped into devices we utilize in our daily lives. But her life is choreographed, edited and shaped to create a vision.

This is what all of us do on social media. We provide an edited version of the reality we live with every day. And for some of us, that's enough. The problem is that there are too many of us like Jake Gyllenhaal's Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler. We create a fictional narrative of ourselves and our lives to capture the public eye. And this intense focus brings with it an insatiable appetite for attention.

Our age of innocence is over. Kids grow up today under the spotlight in a way we used to criticize celebrity parents for doing in the past.  They've been stripped of the chance to simply grow without being seen by the world at large. To my mind, our children were up for grabs a long time ago. We've merely left them to fend for themselves in the arena of social opinion.

This is a silent war being won by convenience. It's easier to leave them with the video game and various devices because you know where they are. If you're up on your parenting game, you also know their online social circles and what they're watching. But we're losing them all the same when our kids can't survive an hour without a wifi signal.

As adults, we're no better. Sand and surf, but everybody's texting. Look at me, the narrative proclaims. I'm at the beach having a great time! The people on the next blanket might have watched you take that selfie shot 16 times while you forgot to put on sunscreen, but it's the story you're going to run with.

I know, I know. Perhaps it sounds like I'm a cranky old lady talking about this, but I never imagined those days of Netscape chat rooms would evolve into Truman Show lives we can't escape. I'm old enough to remember when you had to go to an arcade to play a video game until somebody's parents got enough money to have a system at home. You couldn't binge watch a television show for 48 hours because the next episode wasn't going to be aired until next Tuesday. Everybody else in the house had to use the same phone line. And there wasn't a time when someone would text you from the next room after deciding actual interaction is too much of a hassle.

To me, this isn't even about "good ol' day" nostalgia. It's about the real consequences I've seen when unedited skeletons come dancing across our time lines unexpected. Only then do we latch onto the real world in desperation after we've been judged and rejected. We complain about spin in the media, but neglect to acknowledge that we have become masters of spin ourselves. How many of us know a friend or relative all too eager to air dirty laundry on social media if only to get their version of it out there first? I'm sorry, but a bunch of likes and retweets doesn't justify this regular failure to regard the privacy of other people as valuable.

You know something? After I watched the film, I went outside and spent some time in the greenhouse. And I reflected that my life is pretty much like Katniss at the end of that movie. She's there on a piece of land with her family without a camera in sight. There are no close-up shots to make sure her arrow looks courageous as it flies. The makeup artist is missing in action to ensure her face is picture perfect while she takes aim. No, she's just sitting there enjoying a moment seen by no one without an impulse to check her phone every few minutes to see to see what she's missing. Her attention is focused on the present instead of a screen.

Yes, I think I liked it better when all of us could turn our devices off and make time for actual life. Then I remember: we still can.

Light & Love on your path today. 
- O.M.

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