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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
EditorialsUpFront 03/21

UpFront 03/21

Alerted by a friend who had sent a message to an old email address that I haven’t used for some time, I logged into the account to see if anyone else had done the same. There were over 1700 emails there and after scanning through about the first 500, I found they were mostly from Google, Facebook and other digital businesses asking me to react to their observations. Thankfully there were only one or two from people I knew, and they had been there for so long that it was far too late to apologise for not responding. The sheer volume of alerts from digital media and their attempts to catch my attention reminded me of the book that Sophy Roberts writes about this month on page 43. Published in 2019, How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell is a book that Sophy describes as a plan of action to wrest ourselves away from the attention economy—our phones and computers, ‘to reposition ourselves in a present, physical realm’. The need to step back from digital control is a long-debated point and some will say that it’s too late to unshackle vast swathes of society from what Odell describes as, ‘the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy and distraction.’ Obviously, that’s not something that John Hanning Speke would have had to deal with when searching for the source of the Nile—a story that Seth Dellow enjoyed looking back over on page 22. Nor might it have bothered Jill Dudley when she was travelling in Greece to research her book Behind the Masks—more about that on page 38. And would the power of algorithms have bothered the lacemakers that Margery Hookings talks about on page 18?—probably not. There is much to read in this issue that is as far away from digital distraction as one can get. So switch off the phone and sit down with a magazine. As Sophy Roberts says of how we may live after months of largely digital interaction: ‘maybe when things start to return to normal, we can try to become less obsessed with constant distraction, and live instead by a more empowering hashtag: #NOSMO (the Necessity of Sometimes Missing Out).’

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