Matthew HughesFormer TNW Reporter
Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twi Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twitter.
Please don’t tell my boss, but I got super sidetracked while writing this piece. Sure, I started off with good intentions, but I’m easily distracted. It started, as it often does, with checking my Twitter notifications. Then I found something interesting on Vox. And then… Well, you get the idea.
Ironically, it all happened while I was writing a piece about this manifesto, by Chris Bolin, which rails against our always-on culture, and the flock of notifications that eat away at our attention spans, like piranhas devouring a cadaver in the Amazon.
And to demonstrate a point (and perhaps to ensure that you give it your undivided attention), Bolin’s manifesto can only be viewed offline.
And he makes a good point. Just like guns don’t kill people, people do, notifications don’t obliterate your attention span, your brain does.
“I have spent hours caught in webs of my own curiosity,” he said. “Most dangerous is the split-second whim, apropos of nothing: “I wonder what the second most commonly spoken language is?” Those 500 milliseconds could change your day, because it is never just one Google search, just one Wikipedia article.”
Bolin also makes another interesting argument. From Spotify to Netflix, and blogs like TNW, we consume a disproportionate amount of media online. But seldom do we focus on just the thing we’re watching or reading, and just enjoy it.
This page itself is an experiment in this vein: what if certain content required us to disconnect? What if readers had access to that glorious attention that makes devouring a novel for hours at a time so satisfying? What if creators could pair that with the power of modern devices? Our phones and laptops are amazing platforms for novel content — if only we could harness our own attention.
Bolin’s manifesto is a perfect example of that. It doesn’t just require that you place your device into airplane mode. There’s an absence of links or footnotes to distract the reader halfway though. No rabbit holes to fall into, nor indeed, rabbits to chase.
And personally, I hope the tech giants are paying attention.
I’d love Netflix to introduce an “appreciation mode”, where films are selected beforehand and cached locally, and can only be watched with your Wi-Fi radio powered down.
Similarly, I miss listening to albums in their entirety. With Spotify, I always find myself flitting from track-to-track, or bailing on albums when I get to a song I don’t love. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we started treating music less like a pick-and-mix shop, and more like an artistic expression?
Oh, forget it. Who cares. You bailed on this article a few paragraphs ago to watch a video of a sneezing baby panda, or something.
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