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Balancing Our Attention Budget

Perhaps this deficit is more important than money and pinball…

When I was a kid, I along with most others I imagine loved arcade games of almost all kinds. I still recall my constant trips to the store of which I never shopped in, rather to play the games that were in the glorified cart storage area. And of course who could forget the arcade galleries with excited and rowdy kids giving casinos competition for how many coins can be mindlessly sunk into slots over the course of a day. For me, video games were more enjoyable than television most of the time, and if you asked me to make a choice between the two as a fully-grown but still geeky adult man-child, I’d choose video games without hesitation. Well, except for one, and that would be pinball.

Why pinball? I could never get into it as a kid, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Ignoring the fact I was never particularly good at it and ended up tilting more machines than an angry gorilla on too much caffeine, I just never enjoyed pinball as hard as I tried. It felt a little too monotonous and repetitive to me, kind of like watching a political debate. Remind me again why we traded video games as kids, for TV with boring, mindless tripe as adults? At some point I need to write that letter to management, but I digress…

As a wise 12 year old who’s now approaching a seasoned 47, I feel it’s my duty to look beyond my fond memories of childhood gaming and sadly report why I didn’t like pinball. Recently I’ve been on a quest to regain my troubled attention span, which at times has been shorter than a fruit fly’s patience. Society is an octopus that reaches out more tentacles to grab at our attention spans than at any other point in human history, with no sign of abatement. Social media platforms vying for our clicks and brain nuggets, obnoxiously stupid advertisements blaring on TV at twice the volume of the program, neon signs flashing and coercing us to drain our coffers on superfluous crap. It reaches the point where you just want to turn it all off.

I’ve been cutting more platforms from my life lately than farts after a large can of beans. Twitter? Gone. Reddit? Good riddance. Discord? Hardly knew ye. Netflix and Disney+ and very soon, YouTube? Sorry, not sorry. Since writing more lately and pouring my heart into my blog, I’ve not only been enjoying the ride immensely, but now I realize that this is where my attention belongs. And without the constant pull to check, watch, and peruse so many services on my free time, I can exercise my neural muscles and do something that actually fucking matters.

Pinball strikes me as the perfect analogy to our attention deficit, and how we’re spending its limited budget on all the wrong things. It’s a game that offers little actual control over what happens while completely overwhelming and over-stimulating one’s sights, thoughts, and yes, attention. There’s no peaceful respite, no opportunity to think or plan, no time to slow down. Like everything in our life that zaps our focus, so too does pinball with its endless noises, flashing lights, high-speed stakes, and more things to deplete your concentration at once that it’s easy to get distracted. Easy to become pre-occupied with the wrong things.

Easy to literally and figuratively drop the ball on what’s really important.

And even as a spunky, energetic and sometimes sugar-fuelled child (sorry, Mom), playing pinball made me feel frustrated and even tired when I was done. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Like watching the news as an adult and by the end of the hour being left with even more added to your shit-list of things to be anxious, sad, or pissed off about. Perhaps not ironically, news is another attention syphon that will undoubtedly be dropped like a bad habit for me.

Now, however, after stopping the attention spending and taking steps to balance the budget of my time and focus, I can achieve new and better high scores that I’m proud of with my writing, my concentration, and my personal growth.

And most definitely better high scores than pinball.

Posted in #SeptemberScrawls - Day 7

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