PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Featured: Top of Home Page

Attention grabber

At Salon, Laura Miller reviews Winifred Gallagher's Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, a book about why we find it difficult to concentrate. Miller points out how technology has made it easy for us to distract ourselves with a continual flow of mini-activities, which constantly rewards the novelty-craving part of our brain at the expense of the part of our consciousness that likes to be absorbed in things, achieve flow. We find ourselves becoming the functional equivalent of that guy who is always scanning the room looking for someone more important to talk to and who never has a real conversation or listens to anything anyone is saying. We are always made aware of the alternatives that are slipping away, of the imperative to consume as much as possible within the limits of the time we have to devote to entertaining ourselves. The pressure of what we are passing up becomes intolerable, clouding over the activities we would like to wholeheartedly choose. Miller laments, "In many cases, the thing we wish we would do is not only more interesting but ultimately more fun than the things we do instead, and yet it seems to require a Herculean effort to make ourselves do it."

Rather than make this effort, it seems we try to compensate by indulging alternative ideals: convenience for its own sake; quantity of experience over nebulous qualitative experience; competitive consumption and early adopterhood -- various measurable efficiencies that allow us to belief we are prospering in the attention economy, regardless of harried we may feel by the pace. Or, as Miller notes, we can attempt to use technology against itself, as a filter to block out options, to restrict our freedom, to limit the range of our responsiveness. This is one way to understand the success of Twitter, which synthesizes both approaches -- it's a binge-purge technology whose arbitrary restrictions seem to be simplifying the media onslaught while actually authorizing it accelerating our gluttonous information intake.

Gallagher's book endorses the idea that we are what we pay attention to, so it offers methods for us to seize control over our attention span. But the implication that something other than our own will directs our attention, that it is some wayward entity with prerogatives of its own, is a bit troubling metaphysically. It leaves us subject to "the machinations of late capitalism," as Miller puts it (and I probably would have put it that way if she hadn't), the firms that know how to exploit weakness in how our brain works to grab our attention and fix it on things we would have been perfectly happy ignoring. It also negates for us the possibility of what Wordsworth in "Tintern Abbey" calls "unremembered pleasures":

But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration:—feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,

As may have had no trivial influence

On that best portion of a good man's life;

His little, nameless, unremembered acts

Of kindness and of love.

Those lines are open to all sorts of interpretations, but I've always understood them to suggest that we are more than the sum of our sensory impressions, of the stuff we have paid attention to and collected in the treasure house of our memory. Instead it's what we do, and the unself-conscious grace with which we do it that fills our contemplative moments -- the moments we are systematically banishing from our lives now -- with the spirit of self-satisfaction. The anxiety of identity gets suspended, and there isn't room for the feeling of missing out on something. Rather there is a sense of completeness that comes with giving up on keeping score -- a recognition that our souls are too immeasurable for that.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.