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Life is too short to gift attention to unpleasant people

Something I should have worked out 30 years ago:

If someone whose work you like and enjoy turns out to be a complete tosser, let them and their work go. There are many lovely people out there doing great work who deserve your attention and money instead.

From a famous humorist who was the very first person who was just brutally unpleasant to me in my journalism career, to a former co-author who decided to interpret everything in bad faith, a lot of people have contributed to this insight. But now I’ve had it — and been using it for the past year or so — my world is a happier place.

New Year, New Lens

One of my joys during this year of lockdowns and restrictions has been rediscovering photography with a camera, rather than a phone. My trusty Canon M50 has seen a serious workout, as I’ve turned my daily walks into an opportunity to really focus on and capture the peninsula where I live.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to the development of Canon’s M-series of mirrorless cameras over the last few years, but I was becoming slightly frustrated that, with my lens set, I couldn’t easily capture most things with one lens. And when you’re out walking with two children, on the beach, in windy conditions, lens swapping is not always an option. 

And so, I was delighted to find out that there was now an 18 to 150mm lens that would be perfect as an all day lens. But I was less delighted to find out that it sells for nearly £400 — which was more than I can justify right now. 

However, after a couple of weeks eBaying old camera kit I no longer use, I had both more shelf space, and enough money in my PayPal account to pick up a second hand lens on eBay. 

Here are two photos, taken from exactly the same spot, at the extreme edges of its range:

18mm

Shoreham through an 18mm Canon M lens

150mm

My garden through an 150mm lens

This is great. I’m really looking forwards to putting it through its paces on our daily walk today. 

There’s a good reason we should temper the current Substack enthusiasm in journalism circles with a little caution. It wouldn’t take much for the newsletter platform to reinvent itself as an attention gatekeeper.

And there’s VCs lurking the background, wanting their payday…

15 years on, journalists are still talking nonsense about blogs

This person has no idea what they are talking about:

The reason no one talks about “blogging” anymore is that, for what blogs were good at — sending your personal views on the news (or some other topic) to a dedicated audience — other tools offered simpler, more effective tools for doing just that, most notably social networks. Why go through the trouble of setting up your own blog and slogging through a cumbersome back-end CMS when you can just create an account on Twitter and start sharing hot takes in a couple of minutes?

Well, here’s an hack who clearly has it paid any attention to what’s happening in blogging right now.

Plenty of people talk about blogs and blogging. Just not in politics and news journalism. Go and have a look at fashion, and it’s a different story.

It makes it hard for me to take the rest of the story seriously, though.

This is an absolutely fantastic essay on how fragile the cultural works created on the web have become, through the lens of the late Clive James’s website: Internet Amnesia.

How much more vulnerable is all that creativity locked away in the big social platforms?

The scam of pseudo-attention metrics

Seth Godin:

Part of the scam is that the pyramid scheme of attention will somehow pay off for a lot of people. It won’t. It can’t. The math doesn’t hold up. Someone is going to win a lottery, but it probably won’t be us. And a bigger part is that the things you need to do to be popular (the only metric the platforms share) aren’t the things you’d be doing if you were trying to be effective, or grounded, or proud of the work you’re doing.

Mean

Yes, I know that this was yesterday’s prompt, but I didn’t get to it (even though I posted other things) and I did have something I wanted to say:

One thing I try not to be on the internet these days is mean. But it is an effort. I’m good at the snark. I can bring the snark. Some people encourage me to let the snark run free.

Sometime the snark is deserved. I retain the right to be snarky about Zuckerberg and the FaceBorg.

But I don’t think it’s good for me, or the state of discourse on the internet. I don’t think it makes me feel good about myself. It brings me attention, but it’s not attention I value.

10 years ago, I had a long drive to Sutton every morning for work. The one way I could guarantee I’d arrive in a good mood was to go out of my way to be courteous to other road users.

I feel the same way about the internet. Let’s not turn social media into a secondary school environment where the meanest win. Be helpful. Be useful. Don’t associate with those who aren’t.

Be better.

Trapped in the attention farm

Dave Winer:

Ever notice that mostly what people post on Twitter is designed to get attention for the author. I think that’s due to the award incentive of the system. Flow == more followers == power and prestige.

Yes. It’s the big and dangerous trap of Twitter, especially for journalists. Twitter increasingly rewards attention-seeking behaviour, rather than useful behaviour.

Dave Winer:

Discourse is not Twitter’s strength, not because of the thread structure, rather that it’s a write-only community of attention seekers 🔥

The victorious defeat of the open web

It just occurred to me that the prevalent idea that apps killed the open web is completely and utterly wrong. The open web is still there, it still works, and it still needs no-one’s permission before you can publish there. Sure, the vast majority of the attention is elsewhere, in siloed apps, but then it was in the glory days of the web, too.

Maybe that’s OK. Maybe that’s how it should be. And that’s maybe where those of us who enjoy something different, something alternative, something fun can build new and interesting things. We need new mechanisms to help people navigate these alleyways, and to connect with each other, as most of the old ones are gone or transformed. But that can be done.

Maybe, just maybe, the victory of the apps has handed us the blessing of being counter-cultural again. And that’s exciting.

I love the neologism “memeocracy” to describe the impact of influencer culture in the attention economy. I love the impact of it significantly less.

Barbados, late 2011

I’ve just been pottering around editing some old photos, from our last pre-children holiday. Two days after I got back, my life changed forever in two ways: we agreed to buy a house, and I realised that my time at my old employer was up. I was figuring out what to do next, and so these photos have never had the attention they deserve.

I’m enjoying coming back to them with seven years’ distance.

The still Caribbean

Boating off Barbados

Sunset over the villa's pool

The wild, wild East coast

I used to shoot a lot more landscapes back then…

Such a lovely, simple concept:

Technology is no longer scarce, our attention is. Technology is breaking our attention. Tech should consume as little of our attention as possible, and only when necessary; that’s the core of calm technology.

Do you what I like about smart speakers? They just sit quietly, waiting to be called upon, while mobile phones behave like noisy, annoying insecure devices, constantly demanding your attention. Grow the heck up, phone.

I have to confess, I paid basically zero attention to the royal wedding in the build up to it. But seeing the royals give a hearty two fingers to the racists we’ve seen rise post-Brexit?

It's not our attention that's being monetised, it's our data

The Centre for Human Technology doesn’t want your attention:

What the Center identifies as the ‘monetization of attention’ is, actually, the extraction of personal data. (Curiously, they do not use the phrase ‘big data’, or ‘your personal data’ anywhere in their website text.) This attention (or, personal data) is extracted from our digital and analog behavior and then is used to profile and target us to sell us lies, misinformation, or worsen our depression by showing us advertising for make-up.

I am old enough to have learnt to not to blog every opinion that crosses my brainmeats.

I am clearly not old enough yet to be silent without drawing attention to the fact I’m being silent.

I am old enough to have learnt to not to blog every opinion that crosses my brainmeats.

I am clearly not old enough yet to be silent without drawing attention to the fact I’m being silent.