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Time, Attention, and Internet Brouhahas

I’ve been thinking of my attention as of late in terms of money; in the sense that we all have a limited amount of time in our day and therefore, by default, a limited amount of attention.  We can spend our attention mindful of our attention budget, taking into consideration all that needs to get accomplished, or we can spend our attention freely, letting the day take us where it will and perhaps ending up at the end of the day with a long to-do list still incomplete.

The first way of spending my attention is pretty fucking boring, to be frank.  I mean, I need to be an adult and get my work done and get the laundry done and tick off all the tasks on my to-do list.  But it’s like exercise: I feel good after I’ve done it, but I don’t enjoy doing it.  It makes me feel virtuous, but it doesn’t feel creatively fulfilling.  And I usually get to the end of the day and feel like I spent all of my time on other people and not myself.  I can literally go through day after day of doing things for other people, placing myself second, and never getting to myself and my own wants at all.

The second way doesn’t work either.  It’s sort of like eating brownies for every meal.  The first one tastes great, but after a bit, you start to feel queasy from all of the fat and sugar, your body quite aware that there’s no substance to the food.  I’ll declare a mental health day from work and use it to read blogs, jumping into Facebook and Twitter, and I’ll look at the clock and realize that four hours have passed and I’ve enjoyed myself, but I don’t feel full.  My to-do list is still screaming at me.  And I generally feel like crap about myself when I don’t feel that I’ve been productive.

And at the same time, who defines productivity except myself?

I put a post-it note above my computer last week that reads:

Because I need that reminder.  I have a tendency to run instead of walk.  I have a tendency to feel panicked that I’m not doing enough when it’s quite clear that I’m stretched thin.  This race is entirely internal — I don’t feel like I’m racing other people.  I feel like I’m racing the universe itself; time itself.

I internalized Mr. Keating’s speeches in Dead Poets Society a bit too deeply — I feel like every moment of the day, I am screaming at myself to seize life (carpe diem!) and even if I’m holding it, I’m still screaming at myself to seize it harder.


There’s another way to think about spending attention.  In the example above, it’s about being mindful of quantity.  I have 1440 minutes in my day.  How am I going to allot them to the various things I need to do and want to do?

The other side is quality.  Am I spending my attention on things of worth?  I’d argue that when I’m mindful of how much time I’m spending on it, reading blogs is a quality activity.  I learn something new; my world is expanded; and I connect with another human being.

That is, when the blog is worth reading.  Or when the news story is worth following.  It is too easy to get sucked into the outrage of the day.  It is too easy to waste hours of time over someone else pushing our buttons.  I felt that was last week with the whole Scott Adams misogynistic rant.  I could feel myself getting sucked into thinking about it, reading about it, talking about it.

What a waste of time.

Laurie’s point at the end of the Scott Adams post is what kicked off this idea — that I don’t need to give myself a Tiger Blood transfusion just because someone else is putting the bag on the IV pole (wait, what sort of analogy is that?  Why do I need a transfusion?)  It was further cemented by a brief email conversation with a friend who said that his blog traffic was high if he was talking about something controversial, weighing in on the big daily blogosphere brouhaha.  But his readership dropped considerably if he wrote a touching post about himself.

Personally, I skip over the posts about the big daily blogosphere brouhahas because it goes back to quality — and I don’t see drama as time well-spent.  But I love his quieter posts about himself.  Those are the ones that move me and make me feel as if I spent my attention wisely upon reading them.

It’s not that hard to turn down the Tiger Blood transfusion; to say “no thank you” to someone else’s drama when your peeking into their world.  But what about when they kick down your figurative door and drag you into the drama?  This happened recently to Flotsam and she wrote a long, albeit important (and worth reading!) piece about it.

She states about not interacting with people who are trying to provoke you:

Alas, Conventional Wisdom made contradictory demands upon me. One such set of demands goes like this: Do Not Acknowledge Internet Trolls/Do Not Let Internet Trolls Dictate Your Behavior. The idea is to proceed as if the incident never happened at all, so as not to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they “got to you.” Attention will only encourage them, because attention is what they want, so we mustn’t give it or The Terrorists Win.

Putting yourself out there means that people crash into you (some nicely, some not so nicely).  On one hand, you get the giant game of Marco Polo that Alexa mentions at the end of the post.  On the other hand, you get the email that she mentions at the beginning of the post.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this beyond the fact that I have been acutely aware as of late of how I am spending time.  Of how much I spend on others and not on myself.  Of whether I’m buying quality moments with my attention or whether I’m buying garbage — and whether what I buy is totally in my control (I mean, if someone steals my wallet, the money is gone but I didn’t choose how I spent it.  When you get an email like Alexa received, you don’t necessarily choose how you spend your attention because you’re going to be affected emotionally).

How are you spending your attention?  Your daily 1440 minute allotment?


1 marilyn { 04.05.11 at 11:38 am }

I can relate to this post. Actually I have struggled with this issue for a long time. i work so much, so that when it is my day off, i just want to relax. I am not rich enough for a maid, or have children to do their chores. it is just my husband and myself. But, I have found I do a little every day…and it will all be okay. I find spending time with friends and family a priority over cleaning. I do not think that is the better choice because my to do list just keeps get bigger! I wish I had the answer….

2 manymanymoons3433 { 04.05.11 at 12:02 pm }

I often have a hard time not letting others dictate how I should feel about something I’ve spent time on. For instance, if I want to spend two hours watching mindless tv in order to recharge a bit then I should feel like that was wasted time. That was MY time and MYenjoyment and I’m the only one who has a voice on the matter.

Great thoughtful post as usual.

3 Peg { 04.05.11 at 12:17 pm }

I do spend most of my day in the pursuit of doing for others…driving, cooking, laundry, stuff for work, listening, organizing, etc. I try to find snippets of time for myself…reading, watching mindless tv, sleeping. I guess I’m assuming that this is just the phase of life I’m in and when I focus on the big picture I know that I won’t always be cajoling the kids into doing homework, driving to practices or managing our own little three ring circus.

On the internet thing, I have been spending a lot of time lately reading my blogs, writing my blog and facebooking. But I think it’s because my day-to-day relationships with my family is still filled with such stress. It’s nice to hear other people’s thoughts, funny stories, and connect. That human connection, even though it’s in the blogosphere, is what I’m craving right. Others may think it’s a waste of time, but it’s what I need.

4 Erica { 04.05.11 at 2:11 pm }

Timely post. Yesterday I had my first really hateful comment posted on my blog. I don’t get a lot of blog traffic, so this was a first (some sort of blogging rite of passage?). I was surprised by how invaded I felt about something that was obviously an attempt to 1) just be hateful, and 2) probably drum up traffic to some dumb web site. I was very grateful that I’d read Alexa’s post earlier – it helped me grapple with getting some perspective.

I’m grateful for this post, too. Thinking about this in terms of time (one of my most valuable commodities lately) is very helpful. I’m willing to give time to family and friends (online and IRL), but if I can’t even count on a daily shower, spending time and energy on brouhahas is probably not going to be worth it.

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.05.11 at 3:42 pm }

Only 1440? When I consider that, it feels like I should be more budget-y.

Overall, I think I have a pretty good balance of protein, veggies and dessert.

Like Erica said but for a different reason, your timing of this post is perfect for me. I usually try not to enter the brou, but haha, today I did.

6 Blanche { 04.05.11 at 4:32 pm }

Most of my time is going towards encouraging and re-directing my almost 9-month old (even when I’m at paid work), so it’s more of a long-term project than something I can check off or see immediate gratification from, but definitely not what I would consider wasted time. I am in awe of anyone who can do childcare full time and still accomplish more than one non-childcare related achievement per day.

7 edenland { 04.05.11 at 5:22 pm }

Not a race indeed. I don’t know how I spend my time. Not properly … I suck at every fricken’ thing lately, pulled and pushed apart by the wind.

One day I will be ….. better at life.



8 Chickenpig { 04.05.11 at 6:11 pm }

It’s not a race, it’s a marathon 🙂 So I try and pace myself. From around 7 am until around 5:30 it’s all about other people, than for about an hr or so I get a break, than it’s back to little ppl until bed, than I get to watch some mindless TV, while I do laundry to balance it out. Most of the time I’m doing more than one thing at a time, I am playing with the kids outside as I do spring clean up in the garden and I have them help me put leaves in the composter. I’m loading the dishwasher in the kitchen as the kids have their lunch and talk to me about their day. Many times throughout the day I just stop and read a book to my daughter, or play a game of golf on the Wii with my son. But I don’t work outside of the home, so a lot of the time I am B.O.R.E.D bored, and starving for adult communication, time to myself, and a chance to pursue the things that interest me. There aren’t enough minutes in the day for anything.

9 Kristin { 04.05.11 at 9:50 pm }

I try to allot my time in a manner that fulfills responsibility but keeps me sane and centered. It doesn’t always work but I try.

10 a { 04.05.11 at 10:18 pm }

I waste a lot of time. I freely admit it. However, it is my strategy for dealing with the unusualness that is my life. I’m trying to live a stress-free life, and it’s not working out very well, so therefore my stress reliever is reading blogs and playing facebook games. I generally wander away from the brouhaha. While I love to argue in person, it’s pretty well pointless on the internet.

I think it’s important to listen to my daughter’s stories in the morning. To give her as many hugs and kisses as she needs when I drop her off at daycare. It’s important to do my work well. It’s important to support my husband even when he makes decisions that take him away from home. It’s important to have some fun between work and bedtime. Most of this comes before housework and sleep, though. Unfortunately.

11 Keiko { 04.05.11 at 11:44 pm }

Today I engaged in PETA’s bullshit brouhaha for NIAW and inspired a few dozen other folks to do the same. Sometimes I need to take my own advice and not feed the trolls, but it was one of those things I just couldn’t walk away from without having said my piece.

12 Esperanza { 04.06.11 at 12:40 am }

Wow. I was just writing about this on my new blog – secondhandhappiness.com (with a slightly different slant of course). I’m trying not to buy anything new for a whole year but I can buy things used if I really need them. I’m quickly realizing that while it will save me money to buy things used, I will have to spend considerably more time and effort to get them that way. And I believe that time, effort and money are the three big things we spend on a daily basis, each valuable in their own way. At the end of the year I’ll be curious to see if I feel it is better to spend more time and effort finding things, in order to spend less money, or if it’s worth the money to get them without much hassle.

As far as time goes, I’m trying to figure out just how best to spend it. Right now I’m taking on a lot and I’m sure I’ll soon realize it’s actually too much. Something has to give and usually it’s sleep and that is very bad. So I’m putting my foot down and refusing to sacrifice sleep and we’ll see what ends up falling by the wayside. I just need to make sure it’s not my relationship with my partner!

13 Anna { 04.06.11 at 3:54 pm }

Right now I’m trying to get shake of the lingering bad feeling left from wasting an afternoon of my precious maternity leave with some relatives who were unkind in their interactions with my daughter. Generally I struggle with guilt around productivity, I find it an even more difficult assessment whilst I’m at home, if I feel that the baby had a great day I’m making that time well spent, if the kitchen is an unholy mess and there is no food for the following day and there are no clean clothes I still have nagging doubts about whether I’m spending the time quite well enough. I like your post it, if I ever see any again under all the mess in my house I might try having one in my kitchen, it makes me breathe out and feel relaxed just looking at the pic.

14 Sandy P { 04.07.11 at 1:02 pm }

Thanks for this post. Lately, I have been feeling guilty about not scratching things off my to-do-list. But you are right there are so many hours in the day. I’m glad I’m not alone!

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