One of the principles of my writing practice is Attunement. I like to believe that I am naturally attuned to parts of life that many other people might ignore or gloss over. I tend to think of almost every experience metaphorically, so even just a simple trip to the grocery store can yield interesting themes and ideas for writing.
But even so, I’m sure there are many more things that I, too, miss. That’s because our attention cannot possibly manage all the stimulation that surrounds us. We are constantly receiving new information, all the time, so we adopt a selection process in which we prioritize to what we should devote our attention.
It may be difficult to imagine in the age of iPods and bluetooth speakers, but, just for a moment, picture an old radio with a tuning dial. As you turn the dial, you are tuning in and out of very different channels of communication and information and it’s all so accessible. The bluegrass, gospel, and country music station is only two clicks away from National Public Radio, filled with stoic news stories debating worldwide issues. So, too, is the range of information stimulation we each may engage with on a daily basis.
In an effort to conserve our energy, we even tend to put many familiar processes on autopilot. How many times have you arrived home, unable to recall details about your drive to your destination? Because you know the path so well, you followed the route without much intentional thought while your attention was busily attuned to something else. It follows, then, that we are always tuned in to something. Whether we are aware of the scope and influence this something holds over our lives is another matter entirely.
I admit I am very active on social media. My husband is the opposite. He barely understands what a “meme” is. But it makes me wonder about our differing experiences. Every day that I check into this social media channel, I am influenced, for better or worse, by its content. I am “downloading” a feeling about the climate of my social circles, and I have to remain cognizant about how I let that information influence my perspective and decisions.
This very human characteristic to take cues from our environment has put social media at the center of controversy regarding everything from fake news to censorship. Raising important questions such as, what responsibility do providers of these channels have to represent and include broadened perspectives? But I think it’s also true that we have an individual responsibility to think critically about information we are presented, in any context, and to seek sources that both affirm and counter our positions on a matter. Otherwise, we are constantly at the mercy of what is being produced only within our proximity.
Confirmation bias is the tendency we all have to seek information that supports our existing views. It is very easy – and feels pretty good, I might add — when we find something that validates and affirms our beliefs. On the other hand, it can be pretty uncomfortable, confusing, and complicated when we encounter something that opposes our beliefs. This concept doesn’t just apply to large scale belief systems, either. Aside from religious, political, or other ingrained and often emotionally charged views, confirmation bias exists even in smaller scale situations.
When we have a conflict at work, for instance, and we are trying to sort out a disagreement. As we file through a mental history of interactions with this person and we might find ourselves more inclined to remember and retrieve memories that justify our behavior, rather than memories that might contradict our position on the matter.
Our society has long been a study of the marketing industry. Professionals in this field all vie for one thing: your attention. They come up with the catchiest, head-turning headlines and content in order to hook viewers into the storyline and funnel them into the associated advertising. Marketing agencies outline entire profiles of their target audience’s “pain points” – identifiable areas of struggle specific to the population they serve. In this way, good marketing might solve real problems that you have. But it is important to remember that marketing techniques are designed with one goal in mind, to drive you to a point of purchase.
Our individual responsibility to maintain objectivity begins with a simple awareness about what it is we are tuning into and what is influencing our worldview. What channels of information do we frequent? How do we interpret that information? How do we pass that information on to someone else? Do we automatically agree with what we are presented? Do we ask critical thinking questions? How would we receive the same information if we held the opposite belief? Investigating and reflecting on questions like these can help us navigate the constant flow of information we encounter with greater engagement and attunement — not just on autopilot.