It is not always our choice what information we absorb, our attention is being stolen left, right and center by greedy corporations eager to posses our consciousness with their brands.
We are moving swiftly into an age of web personalization. We are shown a view of the world, of what we "want" to see based on our first plays on Netflix, our first few likes on Facebook (signing the 9,000 word terms and condition document permits Facebook to like things on your behalf based on previous likes) and what we write in Gmail contributes to what adverts we see on our browsers. Even Google uses 50+ signals (where you live, if you are using a Mac or PC) to tailor your searches to what it thinks you want to find. Artificial intelligence is making an educated guess of what to show you.
I was reading an article about how to improve concentration, and in an ironic mocking manner, a banner of interesting articles sprung up on the right side of the text. I tried to make the window skinnier to block them out, but to my disappointment the piece of writing was being pushed out to make way for the other links and I was soon sucked into a maelstrom of half read articles, with my number of tabs building to 25+.
This is also the case with our expanding ownership of gadgets and social media platforms; there are so many different ways to become distracted. During writing this article I received a few messages from Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. Having failed the attempt to ignore them I move it into another room save for 'phantom vibrations' (the feeling that you had a notification because you felt a vibration, but your mind fabricated it).
With the world at our finger tips we become giddy with possibility encouraging us to drop what we're doing and move on, simply listening to Spotify becomes a frantic frenzy of choice, A recent study by Paul Lamere shows that the likelihood of a song being skipped in the first thirty seconds is 35.05%.
Colours, loud sounds and movement grasp our attention, this is an evolutionary behavior developed to save us from a potential predator or drawing our attention to plants bearing bright and delicious fruits. Our animistic predisposition is to be drawn to something that gives us instant gratification, food, sex, comfort, which overrides something that requires conscious choice even if it may benefit us in the long run. Clicking on "icloud hacker leaks naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence" may seem like the instinct email to click over that work document email.
It is not only our online attention that can be manipulated. We can only absorb a selective amount of what is presented to us. Say you are walking down a street in central London listening to music, at any one time you can choose to listen to music (really listen, take in every word, every beat) or look at the sky, or look at the posters pasted onto the walls of the buildings, or look at the people walking past you or at the vehicles on the road.
The things we choose to focus on (whether that be conscious or subconscious) form our own orchestrated version of the world. We are the outcomes of what we pay attention to. We can choose what we focus on simply being mindful of our decisions in this regard and how they can be manipulated (whether by our primitive instincts or by the corporations), thus avoiding distractions and therefore improving our concentration. How about selecting "reader" mode when next reading articles on your device, or turning your phone off to avoid distractions?
We live in a democracy where free will is encouraged, it's only fair that we know how to exercise that right, and take control of our minds. Choose not to be exploitable to the corporations. Ignore click bait, in the virtual and the real world.