Friday, February 3, 2012

Branding and Distraction

The age of distraction is getting even more distracting. Just turning on a computer now means exposing yourself to notices and branding as soon as the electrons start to flow.

I get the Macintosh chime when I turn on my Apple. Then the anti-virus program pops up a window to tell me about how many threats it's protected me from. Clicking this leads to a web-site that tells me it's monitored 503 "suspicious processes". I guess I'm glad somebody's monitoring them. Launching Evernote--my preferred word processing and research utility--exposes me to little nagging ads in the bottom corner which I can only eliminate by giving them money. (And I would gladly pay them money if it meant a one time purchase. But Evernote wants us to subscribe, and I'm just not ready to pay a subscription fee for access to my own writing.) Then when I launch Firefox, the Google home page comes up with a notice that they want me to "Like" them on Facebook.

Good grief. I haven't read or written a single word yet, and my head is already spinning.

Is it any wonder we all have attention deficit disorder? (For the record, I don't. Or at least I'm not medicating myself for it.)

The question is, how much do I want to cut myself off from these distractions? In a very real sense, we go to our computers to be distracted, the same way we used to go to our televisions. (What's that? People still use televisions? I guess so. Just the other day I was floored by a co-worker who told me she didn't like football, but she always watched the Super Bowl for the commercials.) We want the unexpected. We want something marvelous and new to "pop up" and give us a little rush of endorphins, to make us want to click something. Maybe even want to want something.

Only the objects of desire we're presented with are so banal. The chance to "like" Google on Facebook? I don't think we have the choice of liking Google or not, since they're changing their privacy policy and our online lives simply are Google, at this point. Online security reports? I suppose I should be thrilled I can use this computer I paid a big chunk of salary for without having my bank accounts raped by phishers and malware. But it used to go without saying that you could use the tools you purchased, without them chiming in to tell you what a good job they were doing every hour.

It's the banal stuff getting pushed at us that's crowding out the interesting stuff we come here for. The dark forces that drive television are threatening to turn the Internet into something bland, something that encourages passivity rather than curiosity, and something that you have to spend more and more money, every day, to enjoy.

How do you keep your focus, on the Internet? How do you walk the line between being distracted by crap and finding the stuff you came here for?

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