Conflict of Disinterest | 2413

We should abandon the external ‘Battle for Attention’ and instead engage in an internal ‘Conflict of Disinterest’

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Conflict of Disinterest

A friend the other day was telling me about their ongoing struggle with distraction. We all suffer with this and I lent a sympathetic ear. Of course throughout our conversation I played all the hits. The need to develop good taste online, going deep, the doing, and of course the most important fact. Your Attention is Sovereign

My friend expressed a deep deep frustration with how technology captures, quantifies and commodizes their attention. Everything about ‘right now’ is defined by a decline in our attention spans and ability to focus. The main thing that struck me throughout our conversation was the framing. The challenge of online distraction as ‘A Battle for Attention‘. 

A couple of years ago, I think I would have agreed. 

Sure, advertising and any media trying to promote itself operates under the assumption that it’s competing for our attention. And what’s going on out there in the semiotic sphere, the competing signs and symbols and media sure feels like a battle. But what about here, in our own psyches. Should we see it as a battle? Should we even get involved? Do we want to be at constant war?

Instead I suggested, we should abandon the external ‘Battle for Attention‘.
And instead engage in an internal ‘Conflict of Disinterest‘.

Back in 2019 when I wrote Your Attention is Sovereign I broke the statement down into two parts:

1. You, personally, get to decide where you put your attention. 

2. By acknowledging this fact you have to take full responsibility for where you have put your attention in the past, and where you will put it in the future.

But on reflection this is β€˜Battle for Attention’ thinking. 

Mastery of attention is less about what you see and more about what you choose to overlook. It’s about making active choices about the things you choose to not pay any attention to. 

This is related to what I was saying in Episode 23-03 about taste online and the practice of discernment – the ability to choose one thing over the other.

The conflict of disinterest is a two-step dance: one step toward what matters, one step away from what doesn’t.

If a piece of information or media engaged in the attention battle does reach you, the conflict of disinterest inside of you should ask, β€˜Who cares?’.
If you personally care, then great. If you don’t, then pretend it doesn’t exist, move on.

There are a great deal of quote unquote normal things that I have chosen a conflict of disinterest over. When I say I take a disinterest, I mean I actively come into conflict with the media environment around me and choose not to pay attention to it. I don’t care about football. I don’t care about the entire medium known as film and television. I’m also not interested in cars, fashion, or gossip. Well … I take that back actually… I’m not interested in gossip about strangers, But I’m very interested in gossip involving my friends.

To illustrate the depth of my cultivated ignorance. Here’s a personal anecdote: Until It was well after he had retired from playing the game, I had no idea the English footballer Ashley Cole was black.

Now, if something you have actively chosen not to care about is unavoidable, then what do you do?

The answer is nothing – you let it pass. 

Don’t ever yuk someone else’s yum. Just be silent.

Only people who engaged in the logic of the attention battle would get mad and rant about it. Scream culture war. Ranting just means the thing you don’t like, or don’t want to care about, gets larger in your attentional sphere. It grows in importance, instead not being present at all. If you are sick of the world feeling like it’s made up of endless noise, you don’t start shouting too.

When you choose to take an interest in something in particular. You choose to be disinterested in a much wider spectrum of possibilities.

The conflict of disinterest therefore is the cultivation of a kind of productive apathy or anti-focus. A strategic indifference. 

It’s about recognising that not everything deserves our emotional investment or cognitive resources. In an era where we are constantly bombarded with information, messages, and stimuli, productive apathy allows us to conserve our mental energy for what truly matters.

It is a choice to pay attention to the voice and words of the friend across from you at a dinner table. Which is downstream of a much more important decision. The exclusion of everything else happening in the restaurant. The clinking of plates, the family at the table next door, the phone in your pocket.

Paying attention to anything fully is an act of cognitive sovereignty.

But you master your attention by deciding not just what to engage with, but also, and perhaps more importantly, what you ignore

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One response to “Conflict of Disinterest | 2413”

  1. […] is as good a day as any to practice a little ‘Conflict of Disinterest’ is it not? Cultivate a little ‘strategic indifference’ as a treat. Your attention is […]

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