The sooner I can look for the opportunity, the blessing, the more efficient I am in moving towards my vision. The energy it takes to resist and bemoan the change can instead fuel positive movement forward.
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I find something comfortingly anti-essentialist in the way ecology works. As someone who is both Asian and white, I am an anomaly or a nonentity from an essentialist point of view. It’s not possible for me to be “native” to anywhere in any obvious sense. But things like the atmospheric river, or even the sight of Western tanagers (a favorite bird) migrating through Oakland in the spring, gives me an image of how to be from two places at once. I remember that the sampaguita, while it’s the national flower of the Philippines, actually originated in the Himalayas before being imported in the seventeenth century. I remember that not only is my mother an immigrant, but that there is something immigrant about the air I breathe, the water I drink, the carbon in my bones, and the thoughts in my mind.
Put into practice, this is what happened during the “enclosures” of the eighteenth century, a process the historian James Boyle summarizes as the “conversion into private property of something that had formerly been common property.” The commons was privatized in response to its overuse. The tragedy of the commons is therefore often used as a justification for private property rights.
While machine intelligence is rapidly outstripping human performance in many disciplines, it is not the only way of thinking, and it is in many fields catastrophically destructive. Any strategy other than mindful, thoughtful cooperation is a form of disengagement: a retreat that cannot hold. We cannot reject contemporary technology any more than we can ultimately and utterly reject our neighbours in society and the world; we are all entangled.
What is needed, then, is not a “once-and-for-all” type of quitting but ongoing training: the ability not just to withdraw attention, but to invest it somewhere else, to enlarge and proliferate it, to improve its acuity.
It’s important for me to link my critique of the attention economy to the promise of bioregional awareness because I believe that capitalism, colonialist thinking, loneliness, and an abusive stance toward the environment all coproduce one another.
It’s also important because of the parallels between what the economy does to an ecological system and what the attention economy does to our attention.
In both cases, there’s a tendency toward an aggressive monoculture, where those components that are seen as “not useful” and which cannot be appropriated (by loggers or by Facebook) are the first to go.
There is no reward for aesthetic virtue here, no punishment for aesthetic crime; nothing but a vast cosmic indifference, and that is the one thing the human imagination cannot stand.
We will have to develop the practice of being intimate with systems — or as hyperobjects or assemblages or compositions or whatever — very quickly indeed, if we are to find new ways of aligning advanced yet resilient contemporary technologies with adapted nature-based technologies, shared-resource governance methods with radically diversifying cultures.
Social media engages the self as a permanent and ongoing response to stimuli. One is never really able to withhold or delay a response; everything has to happen in this timeline right now, before it is forgotten. To inhabit social media is to be in a state of permanent distractedness, permanent junky fixation on keeping in touch with it, knowing where it is, and how to get it.