December 8, 2017

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I thought I’d share some writing music today as the blog song. This one is called Quintessence and is from the composer Theodore Shapiro, feature as part of the original score for the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Really beautiful track and one that gets my emotions rising and falling every time.

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Current chain of writing days: 19

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The other day I logged onto facebook only to be greeted with a “memory” — a series of photos that were added on the same date several years ago. It made me angry, and at first I didn’t know why. It wasn’t that the memory was a bad one (who would ever share photos of a negative event on their facebook?) but still, it irked me. I clicked on the three dots in the top corner and selected ‘see less often’, and tried to move on. But I couldn’t, and, after a few days of thinking about it, I think I’ve figured out the reason for my frustration.

The internet is an attention devouring machine, this is not news, nor, at its core, is it a bad thing. There’s plenty out there that’s beneficial or educational or that allows us to connect with others. Great. And, for the most part, we have control over our own actions and can choose where to isolate our attention. For the most part. It’s the part we don’t have control over — let’s call it instincts, or subconscious, or lizard brain — that I’m concerned with. It’s the part of us that gets addicted to the dopamine hit when receiving a like, or that’s wired to respond to the colour red (originally for poisonous animals, then traffic lights and warning signs, and now notifications and email alerts), or the part of us that can’t help to relive the past in order to learn from it and alter our actions in the present. It’s when websites purposely recognise and then abuse these instincts to keep us scrolling and clicking indefinitely, that I think it becomes a bad thing.

Let’s focus on the living in the past thing. Any kind of zen master or mindful consultant talks about “living in the present”, which I translate as slowing down your brain for a second and actually focusing on what’s going on around you; taking it in, and finding the enjoyment of that moment in real time rather than later in your memories (or photos). It’s the same reason meditation exists, and has for centuries, to force that action. We are hardwired to either relive the past or consider possible future outcomes, both of which I believe have sprung up as survival instincts; for learning and preparing, respectively. Which is fine except we’re too good at it. We move past the point where we’ve learnt what we needed to learn or prepared as best we can, into obsession, fixation, and worry. And it’s tiring. I’ve found myself wanting to stop thinking about a thing, either past or future, and I can’t, my brain just keeps cycling over it again and again. Which, of course, is where meditation and consciously living in the present come in; to break that cycle. It’s psychology as much as anything else.

But all this is my long winded way of explaining why the facebook memories thing annoyed me so much. It can be hard enough keeping your mind in the present and maintain control of your attention, and this new addition to the facebook algorithm seems purposely designed to take advantage of this. And look, I have no doubt some people love it when these memories pop up, and I too like looking at past photos, but only when I’ve purposely chosen to, not because facebook has told me to. Of course the simple solution is don’t go on facebook, except it’s not that simple. We use facebook for a whole bunch of different things — including news, communication, and event coordination — so if I log on for one of these reasons I can’t help but see either the memories or one of the many other ways the site is designed to grab and hold onto my attention.

Ultimately, I don’t have a good solution, but at least I figured out why seeing past photos of myself made me so angry. In the meantime I’ll just keep clicking ‘see less often’ and hope I actually do.

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In other news the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing awards, which my novella The Case of Henry and the Hamster was shortlisted for, were held yesterday. Unfortunately I did not win, but I can’t deny it was still very cool to be in the running, receive a certificate, shake some hands, and get my photo taken.

Hopefully next time I can also walk away with a win, but the only way to do that is to keep writing, so that’s what I’m going to go do.

Talk soon

Damian

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