The Off Switch

last updated: 12 July 2020 (approximate reading time: 4 minutes; 849 words)

If you’ve turned on the TV or the radio recently, or if you’ve browsed the internet, you will have likely been bombarded with information. Whether Politics, pandemic, or celebrity, taking a quick peak is often a way to invite a tidal wave.

If what you’re hearing is overwhelming or doesn’t make you happy, then why not reach for the off switch?

Pay Attention!

Whenever you turn on the TV or the radio, or browse the internet you will find people actively fighting for your attention. They want your attention for one simple reason: it benefits them. That benefit is usually financial.

To take one example: news organizations (print, radio, TV, and internet) want your attention because it makes them money. They will give you the news and put advertising next to it. The more of your attention they have, the more advertising space they can sell and the more they can charge for that space, and hence the more money they can earn.

It doesn’t matter if the news is accurate. It doesn’t matter if the news is interesting. It doesn’t matter if the news is even new. As long as the news outlet can attract your attention, then they are making money.

There is no news major organization that has a business model where the organization will only contact you when they’ve got something interesting or important to tell you and will stay quiet when they’ve got nothing useful to say. Instead, they want your attention all the time.

Even where the news organization doesn’t appear to have a commercial imperative, there’s still a motivation to attract your attention. For instance, a wider audience will:

  • give the organization more influence
  • help the journalists ask for a higher salary
  • justify the organization’s funding

Stop the Outrage

Have you ever watched something and been outraged? Maybe a politician said something hugely offensive and you kept listening as various commentators dissected the words the politicians said…and then you kept listening as other commentators talked about the words the politician didn’t actually say, but—in each commentator’s opinion—might have intended.

Outrage is used to keep our attention in two ways:

  • If you agree with an “outrageous” comment (which you likely don’t find outrageous) you might keep paying attention because you’re amused to see the reactions of those who are outraged.
  • If you disagree (and find the comment outrageous) you might keep paying attention because you want to hear your abhorrence of the comment be confirmed.

In either case, you keep paying attention, and that attention can be sold.

The outrage has nothing to do with truth and it doesn’t need to offer any benefit to you—it’s just an easy way to get and keep your attention. And once you’re paying attention then someone will be making money.

In the context of politics, outrage serves another function: it gets the outrageous politician yet more publicity and drowns out any competing view. The more outrageous the comment, the more free publicity the politician generates for themselves and the less the opponent will be heard.

Ironically, it is often the opponents of the politician who help the politician generate the most publicity when they repeat the outrageous comment as they express their disgust.

Eat Your Greens

There are a lot of people demanding your attention:

  • Politicians want your vote (and want you to fund them).
  • Celebrities (and that new cadre of famous-for-being-famous, the influencer) want you to look at them and maybe to buy the products they’re endorsing.
  • News organizations want you to be scared—especially about the pandemic.

May I suggest you react to these demands for your attention by reaching for the off switch. Choose not to pay attention. Stop watching, change the channel, unsubscribe, and focus your intention elsewhere. These people who want your attention are not looking to your best interest—they’re serving their own needs.

Am I suggesting you should make yourself ignorant by not paying attention to what is happening in the world?

Absolutely not!

But I am suggesting a better diet. Ditch the junk food and eat your greens… Pay attention to things that matter and which get into the detail. Ignore the influencers and switch off 24 hour news—if scientists find a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19, we’ll find out soon enough. Watching 24 hour news where each story is repeated every 15 minutes won’t make these breakthroughs happen any sooner and you won’t miss out if you find out three hours later.

By reaching for the off switch, you’ll feel better and you’ll stop adding social credence (especially to outrageous politicians). You’ll also create a space to pay attention to something more positive.

Stop Reading Books

You may be expecting a punch line here that says something to the effect: with all that time you’ve saved, go and read a book…

Now, of course, you should read books, and I can offer you some choices. However I’m going to stick with my central theme here: If you’re reading a book and that book doesn’t grip you, then stop! Go and read something else that you might enjoy more.

Filed under

Category: current affairs
Tags: outrage