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September 30, 2019 | by  | in Features |
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Come In, The Door’s Open.


Imagine having two front doors to your house.


The first front door operates like normal. You control when to leave it open or closed, and who or what comes in. The second door, well, not so much. The second door is a door which you don’t have any control over; it stays open perpetually. You’re not aware it even exists, meaning that what comes in and out of that door is blind to your consciousness—but not to your subconscious.


Bit of a rattling thought, isn’t it? I mean, anything could be jiggying its way through that second door, perusing its way through your living room, maybe spooning your pet, fiddling with your pick ‘n’ mix almonds, or even abusing your Netflix account.


Now, this weird analogy you very kindly dragged yourself through for me has a purpose. I’ve used it to illustrate how we consume information. Our brain is like the house: The first door represents our conscious attention. The second door represents our subconscious attention. We know what’s coming in the first door, because we’re aware of it. We don’t know what’s coming through the second door because, simply, we aren’t aware of it. 


Thanks to the abundance of information surrounding us nowadays, there’s a constant breeze whistling through that second door. Many believe we’re in an ‘information era’. In the Western world in particular, we are inundated with information left, right, and centre. Whether you’re on the internet, doing your weekly shop at the supermarket, playing sport, or constructing that message you really can’t be arsed sending—we are constantly consuming and processing information.


The problem is that we’re making ourselves obese, and I don’t mean the kind we can measure on a set of scales. We’re eating too much information. We’re overloading our plates both with what we’re aware of, and what we aren’t. We’re not designed to have this much on our plate of ‘attentional capacity’. We just can’t digest it all properly.


Thousands of years ago, the most we had to be aware of at any one time was where to find food without being mugged by a sabre-toothed tiger. Now, many of us are not only trying to stay focused on the task at hand, but where we need to be in the next two or 24 hours, what’s left in the pantry, did I download that podcast for my walk to work tomorrow, and should I put up that gram of me on holiday in three days or five. I mean, just now, I stopped mid-paragraph for about 30 seconds wondering whether Kanye really will drop his new album on September 27. Focus, Jamie!


Thanks to psychologist Anne Treisman, we know that we still take on board new information subconsciously. Treisman’s ‘attenuation theory’ shows us that when we have multiple sources of information competing for our attention, we can effectively turn the volume down on any one source to focus more narrowly on the others. It’s like each has a volume button. Mute one, maybe turn another down, crank another up. This model supports the notion that—rather than not taking on board information that we aren’t giving our attention to—we simply attenuate the source, which can result in some subconscious consumption.


There’s a social narrative playing out in our culture at the moment that’s so broken. It tells us we must always be on—hustling, grinding, learning, listening to this podcast, reading that book, and taking in as much information as we can. I call bullshit—partly. By all means, do these things: Work your ass off, read some cool shit, and learn whatever you can. But in moderation. None of us are superhuman; we all need sleep, space, and down-time. Often, that’s when our most creative ideas wriggle to the surface.


The world out there is going to throw information at you any which way it wants, like Tyson in the late 80’s. But there are ways to keep your gloves up: Be a bit more aware of what’s worthwhile giving your attention to. Be conscious of who, and what, you surround yourself with. Take into account that every product, marketing campaign, and piece of content, trades in the currency of attention. They’re competing for it, and they know how to manipulate it to serve their purpose.


It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t finish with one of my favourite Kanye lyrics. I think Ye sums it all up quite nicely—“I just need time with my own thoughts / Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault.”


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