Friday, July 15, 2011

"Projects for paying attention to attention" (26 Jan 2009)

PSFK linked to this post by Russell Davies, in which he explains his strategy to make himself actually pay attention to what he listens to:
unless I trick myself into paying attention to music that I either just revert to tried and trusted favourites or let all sorts of new stuff drift by me an in ambient haze. Not really listening.
So I thought I'd try a 26 week experiment; listening to a new letter every week. Just to see what I notice. This is week A.
Projects for paying attention to attention. Those seem interesting now.
I'm sympathetic to the desperate feeling of being overwhelmed by all the music that's accessible to us, but I'm not sure that setting up arbitrary limits is the best solution. Ideally, there would be something at least semi-organic about how we pursue pleasure and pay attention. Is that the impasse we have reached, where we have to force ourselves to pay attention to the things we intended to do for fun? Maybe the "ambient haze" he worries about is actually preferable -- the best we can do nowadays. (And maybe that explains why people like Animal Collective -- and it's even in the A's!)

That said, my arbitrary listening approach has to do with waging a campaign to play every song I have on my iPod at least once. It's a Sisyphean task and a bit joyless too. It certainly isn't what I want music in my life for -- to be the arbitrary yardstick for how much entertainment-industry product I've compelled myself to consume.

Anyway, this makes me wonder if we really have in fact entered into the so-called attention economy -- the idea that our most precious currency is the attention we pay to something, since so much is freely offered and the competition amongst marketers for our eyeballs has never been fiercer. We do have a limited amount of time in which to concentrate our attention on things, but these limitations have not translated into a clear hierarchy of where to focus. Instead, we seem more bewildered than ever by all the possibilities, and we become more and more whimsical without necessarily wanting to. The need to pay attention to attention suggests that our culture has been too successful in promoting distractions; it may be that we can no longer tell distractions apart from things we want to be interested in. Distraction has become the common denominator of all leisure experiences; the only alternative is basically work, socially constructed as joyless.

(Bonus: My 15-song all-A playlist, judging by iTunes play count:
1. Abba, "Bang-a-boomerang"
2. AC/DC, "Dog Eat Dog"
3. Addrisi Brothers, "Time to Love"
4. Al Kooper, "Be Yourself (Be Real)"
5. Andrew Bird, "Fake Palindromes"
6. Alice Cooper, "Under My Wheels"
7. the Arrows, "Toughen Up"
8. Allman Brothers, "Don't Keep Me Wonderin' "
9. Asha Bhosle, "Ankhen Meri Maikhana"
10. Andy Kim, "Shoot 'em Up Baby"
11. Angry Samoans, "Lights Out"
12. The Association, "It'll Take a Little Time"
13. Aerovons, "World of You"
14. A.C. Newman, "Battle for Straight Time"
15. Allen Toussaint, "Electricity")

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