Wednesday, July 6

‘Radical attention’, a call to deactivate mobile notifications and return to hugs

Leaving home without a mobile phone or not having the charger handy when the battery runs out. Two situations that can cause a feeling of anxiety that can even turn into anguish. Social networks have made the need for immediate approval a drug and now the human being of the capitalist world needs them to avoid falling into the withdrawal syndrome. An alteration in the perception of reality has made attention disappear and dispersion is the norm. The writer Julia Bell has produced an appeal entitled Radical care that in less than a hundred pages implores for the return of consciousness. The Alpha Decay publishing house has just published it in Spain translated by Albert Fuentes.

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On average, a person looks at their mobile phone every 12 minutes tempted by notifications, messages and by the need to be constantly informed (not always about relevant news). Bell’s text – who is a professor of creative writing at the University of London – is structured not by chapters but by blocks of text. Its reading lasts for the minutes that someone is able to concentrate on the sentences before being interrupted by a new distraction that entails a responsibility: answer, give ‘like’, calm the need for an immediate response from the interlocutor.


The essay comes around the same time as How to do nothing. Resisting the attention economy, by Jenny Odell (Ariel, 2021) Y Haunting Valley, by Anna Wiener (Asteroid Books, 2021), which also warn about the negative consequences that technologies are having on society. Odell, for example, focuses on the same dispersion problem that Bell denounces. Although she does not affect a massive flight as Bell suggests, she does believe in “occupying the ‘third space’ of the attention economy”, since, according to her book, “individual attention constitutes the basis of collective attention and, therefore, of all significant rejections ”. Something in which both completely agree.

Their writing coincides with Wiener’s in that they denounce the negative consequences that the proliferation of Silicon Valley startups has had on San Francisco. “In its place a hellish late-capitalist landscape was taking over, according to my friends. Rents were skyrocketing, art galleries and concert venues were closing, ”says Wiener.

It is no coincidence that all three titles are written by women. All explain how the prevailing sexism in the technology sector affects women more negatively. Either because they receive more violent and hateful comments than men on social networks, or because they are victims of harassment or workplace discrimination. Or for everything at once, of course. Bell includes in his book the case of Loretta Lee, a Google engineer who was fired in 2016 and who denounced the company for sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and unfair dismissal.

Thanks to their demand, many women in their sector dared to raise their voices and there was a shy MeToo in the guild. “On her blog, Lee posted a post titled ‘Life as a Techie’ that read: ‘In one word: LONELINESS.’ A reality made worse by the fact that only 18% of engineers are women, a percentage that, far from increasing, has decreased since the 1980s, ”says Bell.

Lucrative outrage

It would not be strange that the fact of reviewing three books that accuse the world of technology of being sexist and sometimes predatory provokes an angry reaction in some readers. The same thing that could happen with a paragraph of Radical attention, such as the one that points out –according to its author- that: “On the left, activists are so comfortable watching each other and getting outraged by crimes against progressive sensitivity that in the end, they have divided into factions and did not they show to what extent the platforms are designed to incite such reactions ”.

Indignation or anger are impulsive feelings and lead to fierce discussions on the Internet that last longer than putting a heart on Facebook. And that generates money for companies, which are mercilessly exploited. To explain, the writer refers to a statement by Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist: “The outrage is lucrative. Much of the outrage that I have seen in the digital world – I would say that eighty percent – is being faked by someone to get rich “.

When that goal is coupled with political gain, as was the case with Donald Trump on Twitter, the cocktail can be explosive. His inflammatory messages were so beneficial to the company that he did not suspend his account (which clearly violated all rules of conduct) until his followers stormed the Capitol. As Bell points out, the value of his profile to the microblogging company amounted to $ 2 billion, according to Forbes.

Is there a way to regain the ability to pay attention to what is really important? To regain the time to reflect and get rid of the obligation to have an opinion on everything? The suggestion of the writer is to regain consciousness of the body. “A radical attention that understands that the conscience is still subject to the flesh. To our mutable, strange, contingent and mysterious bodies. Attention forces us to pay homage to the mystery that resides in the other, reciprocally ”.

The book was originally published in October 2020 by the English publisher Peninsula Press, months after the pandemic disrupted the life of the world. A fact that is included as a determining factor to encourage this taking of body perception and attention to others. “The pandemic tore off the veneer of individualism imposed by late capitalism and revealed how intertwined we are, how much we miss each other. We need simple, small acts, like a handshake or a hug ”.

He refers to the philosopher Hannah Arendt to launch a plea: “I only ask that we give ourselves space to ‘think about what we do’ both for ourselves and for others, because otherwise those who have a vision will prevail in the coming battle. very different from society ”. Namely: profit-obsessed entrepreneurs (even more so) or “authoritarian techno-fascists.” At the same time or among others. And it offers simple tools that have been proven for decades: take to the streets, direct classroom education towards critical thinking, seek practical solutions to problems that come and come together to stand up. “To become an enthusiastic and conscious body in the world, whether by exercising the right to strike, to protest, to self-defense, to authority or by being a hindrance,” he defends. With notifications disabled, even for a few hours.