How I Learned to Ignore the Worst Situations on the Internet

Your attention is valuable—possibly one of the most valuable things you have. I don’t mean by “valuable” in the sense that, from a financial perspective, your attention to articles like this contributes to the well-being of online publishers and freelance journalists (although I’m grateful you’re here.)

No, I mean, your attention is valuable because human consciousness—your consciousness—is a profound miracle.You are a collection of atoms that can think and can Decide Think about something. What you focus on shapes your thoughts in tangible ways and ultimately shapes the way you interact with the world.

Therefore, it is important to be intentional when deciding what to pay attention to. Part of deciding what to pay attention to is deciding what to ignore.latest episode never post, a really good podcast about the internet that you should definitely subscribe to that contains conversations about this. Podcaster Hans Buetow interviews scholar Stephan Lewandowsky, co-author of “Critical Neglect as a Core Competency for Digital Citizenship.” From the abstract:

Low-quality and misleading information online often hijacks people’s attention by arousing curiosity, outrage, or outrage. Resisting certain types of online information and actors requires people to develop new mental habits that help them avoid being tempted by compelling and potentially harmful content. We believe that digital information literacy must include the ability to critically ignore—to choose what to ignore and where to invest your limited attention.

There’s something intuitive about this, especially if you grew up in a culture that threw clichés like “knowledge is power” at you. Wouldn’t it be better to pay attention to as many things as possible and learn about as many things as possible? Lewandowski said on the podcast that there are only so many things you can focus on in a meaningful way. “It’s only by ignoring something that you can really focus on other things and process it until you really understand it,” he said.

What exactly does this mean? It depends on your values ​​and what you want to know, but let’s use this election year as an example. There will be tons of articles and videos demanding your attention over the next few months, but only some of them will be worth it. Part of being an engaged and empowered citizen in our current online ecosystem is deciding which articles and videos to ignore.

Create a system to figure out what to ignore

I’ve developed my own personal rules for figuring out how to do this. I find that any article about politics that contains combat-based verbs—so-called good guys “blast,” “eliminate,” or “eliminate” so-called bad guys—is unlikely to contain a useful policy summary of the issue at hand.

Instead, I try to read articles that discuss how different choices made by governments affect people. I feel the same way about articles that talk about “how voters will react” – such articles rarely explain more substantive policy issues.

I’m not saying you should apply the same rules and ignore the same things as I do – we all have different interests after all. I’m just saying that part of navigating the online world is deciding what to ignore, and we could all benefit from practicing this skill. Maybe for you, that means ignoring everything on social media that makes people angry, or articles that seem more interested in quoting than understanding.

To quote Lewandowski again:

…To gain knowledge you must be able to focus on something. If you’re so inundated with information that you can’t pay proper attention to anything, you’re not gathering knowledge. You’re just collecting random noise.

There’s a lot of noise out there and it’s only going to get louder. We all need to get better at ignoring things.

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