(c) Markus Reitzig, 2019. All copyrights belong to the author. Inadmissible distribution or duplication is not permitted. Quotations should indicate the source as: Markus Reitzig, 2019, Kollektiv Aufmerksamtkeit, in: The questions we should ask ourselves, www.markusreitzig.com.
Collective attention - exhibitionistic, voyeuristic, healthy?
Markus Reitzig, 2019
My seven year old daughter asks me if children can be famous too. I explain to her that there are two ways to be known by many people in this day and age. To be completely average or completely different from mediocrity. As a performer on a TV reality show, for example. Or as a tragic victim of external circumstances. Or child prodigy with special talents.
I think about my own answer. Since when have we been giving our time to absolute mediocrity? Since when have we voyeuristically bothered people in need with our attention?
In 1994 the author Stefano Benni published a wonderful black and humorous short story in “The Last Trane” with the title “Papa comes on television”. Relatives and friends of the protagonist come together for a celebration in the living room of a typical Italian small family. The father, an utterly average person, is on a television program. He has nothing to say, at least nothing of importance. Only at the end do we find out that the broadcast is dedicated to his live execution. After losing his job, the man had robbed a supermarket one day. When the cashier triggered the alarm, he shot around uncontrollably and killed two customers in the process. In the story, he is sentenced to death in the electric chair for the act.
What was written and appeared to be science fiction back then seems far less surreal today. People without visibly special skills and merits become cult figures in the media. The needs of individuals are processed in a way that is suitable for the masses, with mostly dubious advantages for the victims. Often questionable TV formats combine both in one.
My daughter's answer brings me back from my daydream. Being a child prodigy would please her. Because as a child prodigy you can do things that others cannot do, almost like a magician.
Those who are superior to others in terms of skills gain status. Leading evolutionists agree that the pursuit of status is one of the central drivers of human activity. It is an urge for collective attention and respect for others, which serves the survival of the individual and - if status is granted meritocratically - also society.
On the other hand, people who strive for fame at any cost are mostly trying to compensate for a feeling of neglect and rejection. Those who find fame in need are already neglected.
I am glad that my daughter is ultimately only striving for status. She will cope with the fact that she is not a child prodigy. Rather, it is important that she does not seem to feel neglected or rejected.
But who should we really give collective attention to and what for? And how many already feel so rejected that they seek attention at all costs?
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