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Jaron Lanier … argues that digital networks that make information appear to be “free” have had the effect of making it harder for people to be compensated for their talents. We become laborers who cheerfully contribute to the value of the network (consider the staggering array of talent on display on YouTube), but that value accrues to whoever owns the network. Our desire for recognition from other people makes us post our best efforts online, and it is the ideologists of “free” who become billionaires while promoting the spirit of sharing.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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Joint attention is an actual experience that we have. By contrast, the attentional commons is best understood as a purely negative principle, by analogy with the “precautionary principle” invoked by environmentalists. The point of being aware of the attentional commons is not to make it happen but to refrain from damaging it; to be aware of the valuable absence that creates space for private reverie, and indeed for the possibility of those episodes of joint attention that arise spontaneously and make cities feel full of promise for real human contact.

What this boils down to: Please don’t install speakers in every single corner of a shopping mall, even its outdoor spaces. Please don’t fill up every moment between innings in a lazy college baseball game with thundering excitement. Please give me a way to turn off the monitor in the backseat of a taxi. Please let there be one corner of the bar where the flickering delivery system for Bud Lite commercials is deemed unnecessary, because I am already at the bar. The attentional commons is an idea that I hope will catch on among those who are in a position to make such sanctuaries happen: building managers, commercial real estate developers, and interior designers. Here is a modest proposal: Could the Muzak be made opt-in rather than opt-out? Once every twenty minutes, somebody in the room would have to deliberately hit a button to restart it, and thereby actively affirm “Yes! We want some emo in here!”

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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Further, such squeamishness [engendered by subjectivism] creates a certain normative vacuum in our public spaces. In walking off the field of our shared moral and aesthetic life, we cede that field to corporate forces, which are not at all shy about offering up a shared experience: the emo coming out of the sound system. That’s what we end up with. The way anonymous others leap in on our behalf and install these systems, without anyone taking responsibility for them, makes the shared experience unavailable for discussion. It can’t be subject to disputation, and this is why it feels suffocating.

The taken-for-granted presence of the Muzak system spares us the exposure that comes from bringing forward one’s own taste for others to respond to…. And this process is self-reinforcing: the saturation of public space by the inevitably lame manufactured experience spurs us to plug in our earbuds, reinforcing our self-enclosure.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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Capon on playing recorded music (or probably audiobooks) in the home (what he calls the “liturgy of listening”):

I must watch that it doesn’t destroy the local liturgy of singing, playing, and telling my own stories. When I go to a man’s house, I should hear his children, not the Kingston Trio; his jokes, not Shelley Berman’s

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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Once, while listening to the bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice in concert, I had the thought He can do whatever he wants. Such was his complete command of his instrument. Yet “freedom” doesn’t seem quite the right concept to capture this expressive power, if by that term we mean an untutored exercise of the will. His freedom, if that’s what it was, was artistically compelling because of the musical ideas it was in the service of. These ideas were his own, but not simply his own. His expressive power was born of artistic formation.

The kind of collaborative improvisation that takes place among musicians in bluegrass, jazz, or classical Indian music is a good example of what I mean by an ecology of attention. It is mutually adaptive. The improvisation is possible because all parties are attending to one another. It is fruitful only because they are also steeped in forms; the history of their art has become the genetic material, the constitutive fiber, of their own creativity. A master jazz musician quotes from The Real Book with the same ease that a master preacher does from the gospels, and the allusion is gotten. It may be taken up and commented upon by the other players; it may be pushed forward toward possibilities that hadn’t existed moments before, as they come into being only through the improvisation itself. One must be alert, opportunistic. As in ecology, that is how new forms arise.

Note that worries about “conformity” versus “individuality” are simply put aside in the account of creativity I have just sketched. More strongly: membership in a community is a prerequisite to creativity. What it means to learn Russian is to become part of the community of Russian speakers, without whom there would be no such thing as “Russian.” Likewise with bluegrass. These communities and aesthetic traditions provide a kind of cultural jig, within which our energies get ordered.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely. If an hour can be spent on one onion, think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St. Basil’s Cathedral. Or how much curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the inside of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses and the juice of pine trees to realize he could turn them all into the first fiddle. No doubt his wife urged him to get up and do something useful. I am sure that he was a stalwart enough lover of things to pay no attention at all to her nagging; but how wonderful it would have been if he had known what we know now about his dawdling. He could have silenced her with the greatest riposte of all time: Don’t bother me; I am creating the possibility of the Bach unaccompanied sonatas.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

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Because that is what we are supposed to do. And let’s get one thing clear before we go any further. There is always a suspicion that creeps into discussions of this kind, a niggling worry that the call to worship God is rather like the order that goes out from a dictator whose subjects may not like him but have learned to fear him. He wants a hundred thousand people to line the route for his birthday parade? Very well, he shall have them, and they will all be cheering and waving as if their lives depended on it—because, in fact, they do. Turn away in boredom, or don’t turn up at all, and it will be the worse for you.

If it has crossed your mind that worshipping the true God is like that, let me offer you a very different model. I have been to many concerts of music ranging from major symphonic works to big-band jazz. I have heard world-class orchestras under world-famous conductors. I have been in the audience for some great performances that have moved me and fed me and satisfied me richly. But only two or three times in my life have I been in an audience which, the moment the conductor’s baton came down for the last time, leaped to its feet in electrified excitement, unable to contain its enthusiastic delight and wonder at what it had just experienced. (American readers might like to know that English audiences are very sparing with standing ovations.)

That sort of response is pretty close to genuine worship. Something like that, but more so, is the mood of Revelation 4 and 5. That is what, when we come to worship the living God, we are being invited to join in.

What happens when you’re at a concert like that is that everyone present feels that they have grown in stature. Something has happened to them: they are aware of things in a new way; the whole world looks different. It’s a bit like falling in love. In fact, it is a kind of falling in love. And when you fall in love, when you’re ready to throw yourself at the feet of your beloved, what you desire, above all, is union.

This brings us to the first of two golden rules at the heart of spirituality. You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship. Those who worship money become, eventually, human calculating machines. Those who worship sex become obsessed with their own attractiveness or prowess. Those who worship power become more and more ruthless.

So what happens when you worship the creator God whose plan to rescue the world and put it to rights has been accomplished by the Lamb who was slain? The answer comes in the second golden rule: because you were made in God’s image, worship makes you more truly human. When you gaze in love and gratitude at the God in whose image you were made, you do indeed grow. You discover more of what it means to be fully alive.

— N.T. Wright, Simply Christian

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