The power of attention

When Elon Musk bought Twitter, in October last year, I deleted my account. I’m wary of social media, which feeds human frailties to gain power and can cause grave harm. My first line of defence in the attention economy is not to pay attention. Choosing which ideas and people I invite into my mind makes all the difference to what happens there.  

Still, we are social beings. As Sarah Bakewell writes about humanism, ‘the meaning of our lives is to be found in our connections and bonds with each other’.

That’s one reason why I’ve stuck doggedly to calling my work community art—not because it happens with some vague, outsider’s idea of ‘the community’, but because it nurtures the connections and bonds that create community. That’s one of the beliefs with which I am nourishing the idea of a selfless art.  

The Traction project was a community—temporary and porous, but nonetheless able to create meaningful bonds among those who chose to join it. In the isolation of lockdown, and in personal crises, it helped keep me afloat. I’ve been able to work freelance for so many years because I never work on my own.

Since leaving Twitter, I’ve come to miss the little online community of distant friends and colleagues who care about some of the same things as me. I’ve learned from them over the years and made valued connections too. These are people to whom I do want to give my attention, especially now I’m rethinking what community art practice might be. 

So, I’ve created a new Twitter account and will cautiously return to that space, despite my reservations about social media, the attention economy and those who control it. Perhaps I have learned to avoid some of its pitfalls but, if not, it only takes a minute to delete the account. I’ve always been comfortable with changing my mind. 

The photo shows part of a poster by Tom Gauld, one of 50 images produced to mark the 50th edition of the International Comics Festival of Angoulème and exhibited in 50 French railway stations in partnership with SNCF.