Have you recently looked up from your phone and had the dumb?
You know what that feels like. You are slightly scrambled. Forgot what you were supposed to be doing. Lost chunks of time, but caught up on feeling incensed about Donald Trump, or Bitcoin or some other next big thing. You are probably reading a post about digital mindfulness and how you need downtime from the digital circus of your own life.
As an Immersive Storyteller most of my work is about absorbing people’s attention through content. My goal is to hook you and dissolve your sense of self away; to transport you. Like this awesome picture from photographer by Nikolay Tikhomirov, the idea is that you gently float into the digital realm of fairytale possibility. So it is essential that we manage our attention when it comes to our digital escapism of choice – just like any other form of addiction. And yes, it’s an addiction.
We are completely enslaved to the information feedback loops, the attention and self-obsession that the social media environment mainlines into our brains (I like to think of Immersion like the mythic Force in Star Wars – the dark side will always call to you). So what are signs?
You are exhausted.
Perhaps the most important sign that you are in need of digital downtime is your level of overall tiredness. If you consume TV, Facebook, twitter, Hollywood cinema or even just Spotify on the tube ride home, you are not allowing your brain to turn off. That constant “on” means that by the end of the week – even if you had your date night and breaks from your kids or parents – if you spent your time in any and all of the Interweb’s Technicolor dream coat; you will be physically and emotionally exhausted.
You are not you, if you stay “outside” yourself too long
Immersion’s most powerful asset is its ability to let you lose yourself, to literally forget your sense of an “I”, and thus step into the world of the other. All the positive attributes of this effect, such as empathy, transfer of knowledge & experience and the broadening of mindsets occur at this thrilling point. However, it’s also the inherent danger zone.
Let me phrase it in the following terms. Immersive Storytelling that doesn’t contain the space to reflect has another name. It’s called propaganda. When we take things on board, like a small child following its parents instructions, we become the unthinking automatons to information. That is the very heart of mass belief & actions – whether it’s politics, religions or sport. We don’t need to debate whether it can be used for good or evil, the problem is the process of any learning without stepping into critical self-analysis is a profoundly dangerous place. Even for the right reasons. When we switch off the part of us that needs to reflect on all the input we have going in, we become complicit in the real plague of ignorance we see today. Don’t blame Trump or Zuma or Capitalism or the Republicans. Ask rather, if they magically disappeared, would the underlying problem go away or simply find another face?
Immersive Storytelling must lead you back to real life.
There is a dramatic irony here, because the solution is also in the problem (and vice versa). Think of it this way. You read loads of articles, follow tweets, blogs and posts. Critical thought happens when we have to consider, wrangle and engage with information. At the very least, it’s an impossibility if we don’t disengage from the medium of information itself.
The CRS (Crisis Relief Singapore) ran a powerful campaign recently. At its heart is the realisation that living solely inside the digital universe makes no real difference. I have reproduced two of the photographs from the campaign. As disturbing as they are, they pin-point so clearly for me the divide between our “digital” and real lives. Their pay offline was “Liking isn’t helping”.