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We are in the attention age. In this age what is for sale is how much, and how willing, you are to give your attention to something. The “free” services we use daily, are not free. Television networks, websites, YouTube channels, Insta feeds, and Twitter handles all pay their bills by handing advertisers’ evidence that you and I are paying attention. That is the literal use of the word paying. It is in the interest of these brands to appeal to our most base instincts of fear, anger and sadness. These deeply emotional reactions are exactly what our minds are best wired to retain, as a survival instinct if nothing more.
Like every industrial age before it, an emerging industry pollutes as it expands with little regard for the consequences. The smog of our attention age is a constant anxiety that results from services capitalizing on our fear, anger and sadness. Existential crises are updated by the minute as we doomscroll through a mire of hyperbole. It is exhausting.
This haze of apprehension, a dance on eggshells, isolates us by preventing us from really connecting with our neighbors and our community. Each of us being cautious not to escalate a perceived threat to “our way of life” into actual conflict. And what is at risk? That we will say something, or imply something, the person we are talking with will take as an indicator that we are not on the same team. That we are not part of the same community. That we will find in a former friend, a new enemy.
Speaking to more than 3,000 of you I found that this divide, this pollution of our attention atmosphere, pervades even our language. Within a sentence or two you can often determine where someone is investing their attention. When I meet someone who has paid so much attention to Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow that their word choices are affected, I wonder if they are aware. If they could see how much of their attention and time they invested in those people, would they continue to spend it that way? If they compared that to the attention spent on their own families, their neighbors, their town governance … would they reevaluate?
To build a better world, I am asking you to value your attention as much as the current economy does. Your attention is one of your most valuable assets. Getting us to invest our attention away from where we can exercise influence is a trick as old as blood and sand in the arena.
Be wary of content that is emotionally charged and that you can do little about. These narratives are the backbone of the attention economy because they can be repeated without change and still collect from us. I guarantee the return on investment you will get by paying an hour of your attention to a neighbor or friend will be many times that same hour given to an “opinion news” show. Get a higher return on your attention-investment by spending it locally, where your influence is most powerful. It takes a little more effort, but a lot less time.
When you vote for state representative you are selecting a person to carefully consider and vote on the laws that will affect you and your neighbors directly. For two years that person will influence and create the policies that impact your daily life more than any other political position. The return on an hour’s investment of your attention in this race is incalculable.
There are three of us in this race, Jake Dunigan (5H), Aundre Bumgardner and Robert Boris. Your vote is a powerful expression of a shared vision of what our community can be. Join me in pursuing a community that pays attention to all its members regardless of their status or affiliation. Learn about my proposals for an improved Connecticut at your41st.org, where you will find links to Aundre’s and Robert’s websites as well.
Jake Dunigan of Mystic is an unaffiliated candidate for the 41st House District.