Cover photo

Sleeping beauty

A decadent opera house. Ivory pillars. Gold everywhere. Paintings fill the ceiling. A feast for the eyes wherever your gaze wanders.

The orchestra tuning its instruments to chamber pitch. The room quiets down. People's eyes move toward the stage in anticipation.

The first chords of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty fill the room.

All attention is on what's happening in the center.

All?

For some reason, this time, the music does not affect me as usual. My mind wanders from trying to figure out why that is - maybe the orchestra is in default mode and not in goosebumps mode - to the question of whether I should lean my head against my company or if that's too much sign of affection for a recent encounter (probably overthinking, but then again, me and (mis)interpreting men could fill a book).

Then, the curtain lifts to reveal a scene at the royal court.

A celebration of Aurora's birth. An explosion of color and dance.

This then gets my attention for the next few hours.

Yet, walking out I do start to wonder - maybe we are all a little bit like sleeping beauty?

Not the part where we're waiting for a prince to kiss us awake, but more of the not being fully present part.

Maybe that metaphor is a bit far-fetched, but it was a good enough starting point for me to spend the weekend pondering the importance of attention and how we're allocating it these days.

And what we might be depriving ourselves of if we're sleepwalking sedated by the symphony of notifications and the contrapuntal stories hitting our feeds.

The accelerando of information hits us wherever we are, regardless of whether it's while on the bus or waiting in a queue.

It's easy to blame the attention economy and leave it at that - back to watching TikTok videos (or shorts now that TikTok faces bans)

But as the serenity prayer goes

grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

I might not be able to change the entire incentive structure of the Internet.

But I can change what I pay attention to—to put it in the sleeping beauty's way, I can be my own prince.

Presence

Psychologists call knowing life's meaning presence. It's closely related to well-being. The search for presence, on the other hand, is not so much.

The journey is not the reward when it's you seeking meaning in life. That's easy enough to understand when you relate it to the paradox of choice, where having more options does not mean a better outcome.

And in our lives, choice is the one thing that has dramatically increased. From the options in the supermarket to the content we consume to potential romantic partners.

We live in an "attention pathogenic culture" where we constantly switch contexts and spread our awareness across 8 platforms and 23 different people on any given day.

Instead of searching constantly (and who knows, maybe that's what Aurora did in her dreams), why not do the simple thing and opt-out?

Paying attention

Instead of searching, why not be present?

There's the one type of attention we call focus. But there is more, and all of them are vital to fostering a fulfilling life.

According to Christina Madsbjerg, the two other types of attention are:

  • panoptic attention, which is more like a casual stroll you take, allowing you to take in your surroundings without zeroing in on any detail in particular

  • hyperreflection is meta-cognitive attention, which means you perceive how others process their surroundings.

Cultivating them enriches our understanding and interactions with the world. I'm not saying you should abandon all social media and messaging platforms immediately.

However, it won't hurt to be more mindful of their use.

After all

"My experience is what I agree to attend to"

William James

What you pay attention to becomes your experience becomes the life you live. If that's not a good enough reason, I do not know what is.

There has always been a conflict between our own aspirations and the distractions. William James wrote the above in the 19th century.

Yet, of course, distractions have become more plentiful and easily accessible— just an unlock away. Add to that the incentive for companies to keep you scrolling, and you get a bottomless pit.

Plus, once you get used to the constant dopamine hits from increasing follower counts and likes, you might need some time to find joy in an existence where people don't throw flame emojis at you. [If you think about it this way, it starts to get ridiculous. Imagine if that was real-life communication... 🔥 ]

One way to do this is by exploring other options and managing how you use technology.

Don't forget. Technology is a tool, not something that should control you. You can set boundaries with the people you interact with and with a little discipline for yourself.

Now what?

Let's say you decided to leave Crypto Twitter be for a day, what to do instead?

In his recent blog on breaking free from Dopamine Culture, Ted Gioia recommends one of my favorite things: listening to longer pieces of music — and doing it intentionally.

Thanks to technology, one doesn't even have to go anywhere anymore to get hit with the full power of a symphony orchestra.

It's enough to have decent headphones and an internet connection.

While most pop songs last maybe three minutes, that's not necessarily enough to have a deep impact on you.

Take this Piano Concerto by Chopin I've been hooked on recently.

If you listened to it for the 3,5 minutes your average song topping the charts lasts, you'd miss the epic piano entrance. And no, I won't tell you when exactly it happens so you don't have the urge to skip ahead. It comes after the orchestra's exposition of the theme, is all I can say. But some of my favorite parts are in the second movement— a melody like a warm embrace after over 15 minutes.

While some critics thought the orchestral accompaniment to the piano was weak, I'm with Schumann, who wrote in his magazine that Chopin brought Beethoven to the hall.

When listening intently, you notice new things, which might trigger an exploration of a piece's context.

After walking out of Sleeping Beauty, one of the first things I did when I got home was trying to find that Cello Solo.

I then learned that the same melody also features in Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony, 2nd movement - in which the composer recalls a love long lost. In the symphony, the brass section cuts the melody off, indicating the tragic loss.

In the ballet, however, the same melody comes back in the scene where the purple fairy evokes visions of the princess, motivating the prince to find her. Love at first vision. Isn't that beautiful?

Ted calls this "the aesthetic antidote to TikTok culture."

And it isn't limited to music. It's more about doing one thing at a time attentively.

Going back to the types of attention Christian Madsbjerg described, another option is to walk around outside, taking in what's happening in your environment without mediating via an electronic device.

Observing without judging. Being open-minded and curious.

If you look at the world with a lens of curiosity, it becomes much more vibrant.

The other day, I found myself standing in the supermarket queue, marveling at the fact that we have all these things available to us at any time. One time I even started researching pasteurization because that's some fascinating stuff.

I also spotted a "you are wonderful" post-it note someone had stuck at the traffic light. Next to "pay the artists" stickers and a kind of bird I had never seen before.

With a keen eye and a mindful approach to observation, the mundane transfers into the extraordinary.

Christian Madsbjerg

It's often the little things that make a big difference in how we perceive our lives.

Paying attention is the base for some of the greatest joys we can experience. A base for a sense of awe and presence in everyday life. And for better relationships with others. Something that makes us human.

Even Nietzsche knew that.

“Precisely the least thing, the gentlest, lightest, the rustling of a lizard, a breath, a moment, a twinkling of the eye - little makes up the quality of the best happiness. ”


Thanks for reading my words in a world full of other options! 💚

If you want some inspiration for music to listen to - in addition to the one mentioned in this blog, I'm also a big fan of:

...

For those into classical music, check out the playlist we curated from fellow Farcasters' favorite music.

I could probably continue this list forever. There are also countless books I can recommend—just ask!

Also highly recommend sitting by the river and watching ducks. Which is what I'll do next.

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