"Rewilding," analog-style

TAoN No. 90: Six ways to escape algorithmic attention patterns by engaging with the physical world. Plus: A new icebreaker, and more.

Programming note: I took last week off, to deal with some other matters. It was an impromptu decision, and it seemed silly to send out a note saying I wouldn’t be sending out a note. Anyway, back to regular schedule!

Previously I mentioned the discussion around “rewilding your attention,” defined by Clive Thompson as “step[ping] away from the algorithmic feeds of big social media.” Here is his list of nine ways to do that. It’s worth reading, for sure. But by design, it’s a pretty digital-centric list — use RSS, link-surf off niche blogs, etc.

Great advice! But I’d like to add that another way to step away from algorithmic feeds is to engage more curiously and attentively with the physical world. If that sounds appealing, here’s a quick list of ideas for analog rewilding. (A number of these are addressed in the book, which after all is pretty much a guide to rewilding your attention, and in previous issues of this newsletter; you can click through on each bolded idea for more.)

1) Start with this “engage your senses” checklist, borrowed from the delightful Affirmation Chickens newsletter. Go outside, maybe for a walk, and note:

  • What are five things you can see?

  • What are four things you can touch?

  • What are three things you can hear?

  • What are two things you can smell?

  • What is one thing you can taste?

2) Look Out the Window. Go find a window. See what’s out there. Check back again later. And later still. What’s changed? What hasn’t? Continue to do this over time. Maybe even a really long time — for a decade or more. Let me know what you notice.

3) Keep a sound diary for a set period of time (a week, a month, whatever works for you). Note everyday sounds, mechanical sounds, natural sounds — and musical sounds, old and new. At the end of that period, review your findings. Consider repeating the exercise.

4) Describe scents. For a few days or a week, make an effort to notice what your nose detects, good or bad — and try to describe it. The act of trying to capture scent in language is a useful trick. So just go with what engages you: Write a description or just turn it over in your head; strive for concision or go full-on poetic; judge the seductive and the repulsive extremes or hunt the elusive points in between

(If you find you’re really into this subject, check out the “Scent Walk” prompt in The Art of Noticing book.)

5) Appreciate a Random Person. This idea is borrowed from Anne Kadet of the amazing Café Anne newsletter: Consider how a random person you encounter is doing their very best. Appreciate their effort.

Anne’s words: “In the city, I like to not only notice what a random person is doing and wearing, but reflect on the fact that this likely represents their best effort in the moment—given the available options—to make themselves happy.”

6) Put an Anti-Appointment on Your Calendar. A while ago I wrote a DealBook piece about the importance of taking (good) time off from work. That piece mentioned the Shabbat strategy — borrowing Judaism’s mandated weekly day of rest and taking one day a week off from technology, screens and/or work — championed by the writer and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain in her noted book 24/6. As she has said:

“All the ideas come on Saturday. And I think about that a lot because, as a filmmaker, when am I feeling most juicy and creative? And it’s when my mind gets to go off leash, and it’s not responding to things on my screens. It’s just doing its own thing.”

Maybe the Sabbath idea seems daunting because it’s an entire day. But if so, you can still borrow a scaled-down version of the idea, and schedule smaller (but still non-negotiable) chunks of off-leash time. Part of the payoff will be knowing that, counter to the familiar feeling of being time-starved, you’ve always got this off-leash time waiting for you. Instead of an obligation, make it something to look forward to.

For even more IRL rewilding ideas, see my earlier posts about all-indoor noticing prompts from early in the pandemic era, here and here. And of course I’d love to hear your ideas for exploring the rewilderness!

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  • Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.

This week’s icebreaker is from Lee Coursey:

"What is your most memorable experience involving an animal?"

Naturally I was curious if Lee had an answer to this. The reply in part: “The first one that comes to mind occurred on a trip to Glacier National Park. A female mountain goat and her kid met my wife and I on a high, narrow trail. Apparently the goats had decided that the trail belonged to them. They came right toward us and showed no signs of stopping or stepping off. Finally, we had to gingerly step up a steep slope into some brush to let them pass. … Mountain goats have a repertoire of highly evolved traits that make them excellent at stepping up and down steep rocky slopes — but they chose to force us off the trail instead. It provided a stark reminder that we humans are the interlopers and visitors in wild environments.”

Wonderful. Thank you Lee!

As usual, I’m still working through the disorganized backlog of icebreaker submissions. But as always, I want more:

Please send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to consumed@robwalker.net

Programming Notes

  • This Thursday’s post for paid subscribers: What I learned from the Sparks Brothers documentary (about a band I’ve admired for decades).

  • Plus a fresh installment of The Heard, sharing music that’s caught my attention (in a good way) lately.

  • As always, if being a paid subscriber is not in your budget but you’d really like access to those posts, drop me a line, I’m reasonable. consumed@robwalker.net.

  • If you would like to underwrite a subscription for someone who doesn’t have the budget right now, you can do so here.

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In Other News

@counterprintbooks, @lapazienzaartielibri, @_onetitled_

Okay that’s it!

  • As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: consumed@robwalker.net. Or use the comments!

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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

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