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May I have your attention please? (Hyper VS deep attention).

Moving images capture us, pull us in.

But the plot keeps us watching.

As television technology advanced so did plot. The intricacies of shows have increased drastically. In Everything Bad is Good for You Johnston contrasts the plot lines for early TV shows with later. Shows in the 70’s like Starsky and Hutch follow a very linear plot line. Each episode contained two characters moving in a linear direction toward a conclusion.

Tv has gotten a lot harder since then. To keep up with an episode of 24 your brain has to keep up with 10 or so plot-lines, and crazy character-relations. It demands our brain pay attention to keep up. Video games are also discussed in the same vein. They force your brain to figure out how to interact with a world with different physics, and each game has different rules. (Gladwel talks about this idea of television making us smarter in The New Yorker).

Hayles talks about the down side of this. Games and TV are training our brain to be hyper-attentive. We have to focus on 10 plot lines, or 10 enemies. Our brains are being trained to multi-task. Reading books is on the decline. The deep-concentration needed to read a book is a learned/trained ability.

Linda Stone goes into a detailed analysis of this societal transition to hyper-attention-minded. At the end she points out that many people in the west are currently experimenting with meditation and yoga. Studies on meditation have shown it actually alters the structure of the brain by “[increasing the] thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.” (Harvard Gazette). Scientists believe meditation activates the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with attention deficit disorder. (PsychCentral).

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

If we do not practice ‘deep-focus’ that part of mind dwindles.

We take it upon ourselves to eat in a balanced way. That makes us healthy. Similarly, we should be aware of the types of media we absorb mentally. The type of cognitive exercise you get from video games and TV are completely different than that of the book. Books give you an in-depth analysis of a subject. There is absolutely no replacement for the mental role it plays. You cannot get around reading books. The same mindset should be displayed towards video games. You should not marginalize the acts of deep-concentration or hyper-attention.

“Being “smart” involves facility in both kinds of thinking—the kind of fluid problem solving that matters in things like video games and I.Q. tests, but also the kind of crystallized knowledge that comes from explicit learning” – New Yorker

Hayles asks what we should do about the generation who’s brains are being primed by media that leads to a hyper-attentive state of mind. They could be medicated into a state of concentration, like fighter pilots, with methamphetamines (Ritalin/Adderall). This type of relation to mind-changing drugs is something we must question as a society. Whats wrong with taking a pill to put you in an incredibly concentrated state? Its refered to as cosmetic neurology – the ability to alter mind states as easily as we alter our appearance  with makeup. Its a huge ethical debate. Another option is to study and institutionalize meditation, since it helps develop the section of the brain that is used during deep-concentration.

Whatever the answer, the craziness of todays communication technology is not going to let up. Society is swept up in this hyper-alert mode of operation. Perhaps having an institutionalized ‘downtime’ isn’t a bad idea; thirty minuets of the day to sit and reflect. We need it to help our brain-box’s cope.


  1. Mattie wrote:

    Alex, I’m not sure that TV has changed so much to a singular plot to multiple plots all that recently. What about soap operas? Those have several storylines going all the time, and soap operas have been around forever. I think that perhaps, the multiple plots have just gotten more mainstream. Not everyone watches soap operas, but tons of people watch 24 and various other prime time shows. I think we’ve just gotten used to it now, so much so that it’s become an expectation. If we have to multitask our lives, so should the TV characters we watch.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Kknight wrote:

    Good overview of the topic, Alex. The most interesting part was your statement, “Whats wrong with taking a pill to put you in an incredibly concentrated state? Its refered to as cosmetic neurology – the ability to alter mind states as easily as we alter our appearance with makeup. Its a huge ethical debate.”

    I would have loved to have read more of your thoughts in this area.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  3. olumi_day wrote:

    Great interpretation. I also like what you said about institutionalized down-time. This might be a stretch but I remember in middle-school having to take part in a “moment of silence” at the beginning of every school day. Also, I remember working after-school at the YMCA and one of the activities always on schedule was a mandatory quiet-time for the kids. We were also instructed to allow kids with ADD/ADHD some time everyday to do whatever they pleased (with some constraints, of course) until they exhausted themselves.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  4. Sydnie wrote:

    I think we should implement your idea about down time right now. This country is so concentrated on going, going, going, that people get burnout in a career early in life. How crazy is it that people want to change careers when they are heading into their 40’s because they are sick of working in that field. This change could also be that they are hyper-attentive and being in a job for longer then five years is a crazy idea too.

    Monday, November 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

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