The Tower of Babbling

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

The Attention Economy is everywhere. Hits on social media sell ad space. Pundits make stupid statements to get hits and rile voters. Everything is about getting us to look, click, and of course, serve up a few ads or maybe get a donation or sale out of us. The Attention Economy’s architects built it to use us, not serve us.

The result is a pile of data analysis, affiliated companies, shadowy agreements, and optimization. This Rube Goldberg device of attention extraction serves those wanting to make even more money and the few who can get in on the deal. It’s a meaningless edifice for most of us. There’s no there there, just people selling things through ads or wanting to get us to vote in anger.

The pinnacle of this is NFTS, where people burn up the planet to tag ugly art as theirs in what is obviousy a scam and money laundering scheme. There’s no meaning, just people insisting there is until the game of musical chairs catches fires.

Lately, I’ve been digging through old indie radio shows, some going back to the ’80s. There’s music I’ve never heard before and will likely never hear since. There’s witty commentary on the time that’s only more poignant. It’s all so personal, so real, so meaningful to the people at the time – listening to these shows, I felt the enthusiasm so strongly, an enthusiasm I missed.

That enthusiasm, that meaning came from the strong personal feel of the indie music, the skits, and the host’s passion. That connection is too rare in the attention economy. It’s hard to love something when you have to pander to the algorithm, jump on the latest trend, or spew the latest jargon just to get seen. You have to be meaningless to get the attention for things with meaning, and it’s maddening.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve found myself engaging in what’s meaningful to me. Joining activist groups that do things. Engaging with meditative practice more strongly to understand myself. Working on a job that lets me actually do good things. I think this focus wasn’t just due to the pandemic itself, but necessary to keep myself together in the mess of the Attention Economy.

Many of us hope to slow, dissemble, or change the bizarre media mess we’re dealing with. I have some hope for regulation and great hope for engaged citizens. But one thing I can say is we need to focus on ourselves and find what we care about first. That gives you the grounding you need to do the right things – and not get swept away in the latest mathematically calculated fad or outrage.

I want to be as deep into something real as old radio show hosts were into psychobilly from Arkansas or early techno.  Maybe by being better grounded, I can help others find meaning as well.

Steven Savage

Run Deep Not Shallow

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

My friend Serdar tweeted thusly:

“speculation: nostalgia for 8/16-bit gaming / computing is nostalgia for an era of dedicated devices and focused time, an era when you could sit down to write or play sth and not have 200 tabs assault you sidelong”

As I retrogame, I had to think this statement over. I came away with the conclusion Serdar wasn’t right in the whole, because there are many reasons. But he was right in the small as, on review, I saw this in myself and others.

Echoing memories of a simpler time.

This reminded me of an exercise I had done to evaluate my life and career. Often replaying my choices, I took a walk for an hour and worked backward through my life, looking at my major life choices. I had many deep insights during my stroll, but at times I remembered life before internet-driven complications.

How much of my time today was really mine?

I finally found a way to express this when I discussed social media with a communication professional. They noted the research required to go into a good strategy these days and how easy it was to be distracted. I summed up their conversation as “what are the deep patterns?” that mattered to what they had to say.

We are distracted by so much that professionals have to keep developing counter-distraction approaches.

Thus we come full circle to what stuck in my head due to Serdar’s Tweet. So much of today’s mega media always-online culture of constant chatter was a distraction from “deep patterns” of life. Like powerful currents running beneath a body of water, those are important, not the sparkly ever-changing reflections on the surface.

The deep patterns, the powerful currents we need to navigate, steer, and control, are easy to miss in an age of 200 tabs and constant scandal-chat. It often feels like there’s more of everything, but what matters is a shrinking percentage of the whole vying for our attention.

How many times have you wanted to scream but does any of this matter?  Admit it, it’s a non-zero number.

For me, I’m glad I have experience and interest in meditation, philosophy, and psychology. Some Taoist abdominal breathing or pithy Buddhist quotes help bring me enough awareness of the distractions I face. But sometimes, it’d be nice to just not have 200 tabs, ten text messages, and email piling up.

It’d be nice to just focus on a good game.

Steven Savage

A Writer’s Problems Aren’t Unique

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I often mentor other authors as I’ve been self-publishing for over a decade and writing professionally and non for much longer. Often it seems they have the same problems over and over again. We all know the drill – writer’s block, fear of failure, formatting, etc. When you mentor, it seems you’re stuck in a time warp, and you’re too tired to make Rocky Horror jokes.

Sometimes I find this frustrating, and I know other authors experience this as well. We’d love to see a unique problem, thank you. We’re done with issues of capitalizing titles and line spacing – can we get something new?

This frustration misses an important point.  We see the same problem repeatedly, but for that individual author, the experience is unique. It is their writer’s block, their insecurity, and so on. What has become abstract to us is painfully personal to them.

Realizing this can help us get over “writer problem boredom.” We can understand the personal experiences of writers having the same crisis we’ve seen before. We can understand the visceral issues someone is having, even if we watched fifty other people have the same problem. Our advice can be customized (and sometimes is more about the person getting other life problems solved).

This also means we can tell the people we mentor that they’re not alone. They’re going through what others have gone through before. There are resources to help them because these problems are so common. Help is not only on its way, it’s arrived and set up shop online and in your library.

Finally, when we tell writers their problems are common, it’s a sign to keep going. Their issues have bedeviled others, others who have solved the problems. The key is to keep going.

Maybe, once they’re over their blocks, they can guide other people as well. With our insights, maybe they’ll be less frustrated.

Steven Savage