Ellsworth was fifteen, when he astonished the Bible-class teacher by an odd question. The teacher had been elaborating upon the text: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Ellsworth asked: “Then in order to be truly wealthy, a man should collect souls?” The teacher was about to ask him what the hell did he mean, but controlled himself and asked what did he mean. Ellsworth would not elucidate.
– The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
I witness the soul collecting business everywhere in this modern world. It’s about time and attention, which compose of a life. The more I spend my time reading Financial Times, I gave them my life worth of time that I consume on reading it. The more I spend my time scrolling Facebook and Instagram, it’s the same story. We give our attention: “which comes in many forms such as love, recognition, heeding, obedience, thoughtfulness, caring, praising, watching over, attending to one’s desire, aiding, advising, critical appraisal, assistance in developing new skills and et cetera. This is the cost that might not deplete our bank balances, yet its cumulative cost affects things we hope to put at the heart of a happy life”.
Attention, in history, “has become more than a proper metaphor for enlightened ambitions. It’s perceived as the medium of education as well as of spiritual and moral development“. And this very evolution of attention in modern economy billing its personal and social cost, I’d be more attentive in what I’m consuming my time. Is this worth my life, my soul to put, or rather, it’s what wears me out giving me a hallow hole in the very heart? Ellsworth Toohey, one of the main characters in the book mentioned above, The Fountainhead, knew precisely what is to collect human souls through the media and appeals for humanity. Precisely he chose to write columns in a magazine of architecture business, and I now understand a bit that it was no coincidence.
Modern architecture replaced the ancient religious alters. The owes that people donated and the glory that people prayed for, aren’t more toward a cathedral or a temple. It’s toward the Empire State Building or The Eiffel Tower. Human beings used to find the richness of fulfilment, the pursuit of superior being and the reflection of morality on aboveground, on the very sight of religious or sacred monuments. These owes and wonders were replaced by medias so to reproduce on the sight of modern architecture poking the sky; skyscrapers as we call those. I was taking a walk on crowed streets of melancholic parisien night, arriving to Trocadéro station. I could see people worshipping their time being there, taking all the evidence photos of their mecca arrival with their phone to put life footprint on Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. Neil Gaiman also argued this tendency in his transcript framing the war between ancient gods and modern technologies idols.
I’m not proposing the backwardness of technological evolution. The modern technology reaches almost to the level of creation, or at least the ultimate stage limitation of creation, as Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a humanised artificial intelligence called Sophia. I cannot distinguish whether the artificial intelligence has caught up human intelligence or human intelligence has become dumber for the need of computer to understand human lives as David Auerbach argued in ‘The Stupidity of Computers’ (2012); “Because computers cannot come to us and meet us in our world, we must continue to adjust our world and bring ourselves to them… Their dumbness will become ours.”
My concern, if I may put it this way, is that we used to have a purpose of our worshipping, but now we lost the very purpose of our owes; rather we owe out of distraction. We exchange our attention with distraction, which distract us from modern slavery of emotional and economical burden that is put on our shoulders every moment in the name of liberal competition. Media creates more distraction, as with political regimes’ mechanism to seize power in hold. Taking selfies backgrounding modern architecture has brought us from the concern of humanity as a whole to the concern of individual appearance. It’s not to withstand by others, but rather, to outstand from the others, if I exaggerate. The main concern for any ancient alter is to participate the rituals of worshipping, and nowadays, the main concern for taking photo in front of any modern architecture is to brag and to be photoshopped for a better looking; a personal esteem.
Toohey knew that collecting lost souls is fairly easy, since a simple word of humanity magnifies those to bring in, and Eiffel Tower knows exact three words of humanity: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (derived from frère, brother, as to mean the brotherhood). All individuals who come to Eiffel Tower are with their own will, with similar social and economic conditions, to share the same belonging with others who also have done the same. The greatness of God (or Gods) has turned into the greatness of human capacity, and yet consecrating some human figures for hero worshipping. Even though the very Revolution which brought the moto of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity came to end the very sacralisation of any figures but every individual themselves.
So what value my attention contains in this society? In what should I invest, especially in this era where my clicks digitalise my being to reproduce my being suitable for digital capacity (which meant dumbness described anteriorly). As quoted in the beginning of this post, attention is a way for spiritual and moral development. Under the distractive environment, focusing on some specific areas to give my time and attention becomes harder day by day. It’s important to understand that when one can give attention, he or she also can take this attention back; we can also ignore any distraction. As such, ignoring also should be a way for spiritual and moral development, for attention and ignoring are the two sides of a same coin. There is an interesting legal movement that arises nowadays claiming the right to be forgotten; for example one deletes Facebook account, the whole historial also should be deleted rather than be saved in some ways for the future. Such legal approaches represent the tendency of digital ignoring, away from distractive media and hallow attentions.
Will those digital ignoring be turning into analogue attention? Logically yes, but again, I cannot name this as a backwardness of technological evolution. Maybe those people will care more to explore ancient religious monuments to give their worship and attention for spiritual and moral purposes, rather than to validate their status before significant number of insignificant audience. Well, maybe not insignificant audience for Toohey, for he knew how to collect those lost souls for himself. But then, if I’m not like Toohey, I ask myself why I’m not already quitting this endless vicious circle.
Then, what is your case? To what belief you carry and to whom you worship giving your lifetime value of attention?