December 23, 2020•624 words
Near-Unconscious consumption is the name I've (just) given to that state of just consuming, not thinking about what you're doing, not really thinking all that much about the content, just sort of floating on the breeze that what ever you're consuming is blowing at you.
I notice it the most on the internet. It's one of the (many) reasons why I've left social media almost entirely: I couldn't, without unreasonable effort, consistently avoid falling into this state. (When it's me against a recommendation algorithm designed to keep my attention as long as possible (with millions, even billions of users' behavior data to back it up, I'm somehow unsurprised that I sometimes lose.) When I let myself get pulled in, I pretty much become unconscious; time flies by, and I don't think about anything other than what I'm consuming. I will often emerge from this state unhappy and with little memory of what I consumed except for the final pieces of content closest to the end.
It's pretty dystopian when you think about it.
Sometimes I'll see people I care about browsing TikTok. They will just lay down, open up the app, and then sit there for hours on end (if their schedule allows) just scrolling, random sounds blaring from their phone, eyes flitting up and down the screen. Once they're done, it's like it never even happened; they don't have anything cool to talk about, anything interesting they read, just a few hours gone to ByteDance's profit machine. It really hurts me to watch, because there's no way to bring it up to them without sounding patronizing or uncool, despite the fact that I am years younger than them. When I do, it'll just go:
"Dude it's really painful for me to watch you just scroll for so long."
"But hehe TikTok funny"
And that will be the end of the conversation. I'm not even joking about their response: they literally say, "Hehe TikTok funny". (This is turning into a rant about social media so I'll turn back toward the main idea of this article, but this is something that's been on my mind for a long time and once I started writing I realized how I actualy felt about it.)
This state of Near-Unconscious Consumption is not limited to the reach of AI; humans do it plenty well. It's this same focus that allows me to do things like read Orwell's 1984 in one day over the course of a seven-hour reading session, then read two more books before the week ends, and then not read any more for like a month. Strangely, my reading habits are very similar to my social media habits: occasionally open a book, get pulled in, probably read for a few hours, then stop for a while. I also tend to decieve myself about their nature - when opening a book, I'll tell myself that i can read for just 10 minutes, and when opening twitter.com/explore I'll tell myself that "I'm just checking out what's happening, in case I'm missing something important". (I don't read books consistently, unfortunately - I think it has something to do with a lack of good choices in books, but that's for another time.) For some reason, this state only seems to work, for me at least, in long bursts.
Like with most of the posts here, I don't have anything scientific data or sources to explain this phenomenon. I'm just observing, and I'm content to do so at this moment. One day I can revisit these posts and turn them into full-on essays, but for now I'll leave it here.
I haven't forgotten about the Firefox Focus update post - I'm waiting until I've used it for about a week.