The Great Attention Deficit

I have come to realised one thing over two weeks of interacting with members of the public – there is a great attention deficit in this country. (I know this is rich coming from a self-professed prolific attention seeker and oh the irony that this is posted online.)

For some context, my unit commanders have once again thought me as a better salesman than an ammunition technician, and thus I had been seconded off to the 2016 Army Exhibition as an ambassador. And alas, there I was at the mercy of some 100,000 heartlanders, attention-starved heartlanders.

It’s as if we’re so starved of attention to the point where it becomes the primary preoccupation that dominates and subjugates the sub-conscious id.

Old men, old women, middle-aged and the young. Their life stories, job problems, how their time in the army was so much worse than my time in the army, opinions of how US militarism in Iraq has precipitated the rise of ISIS, thoughts on the sufferable horrors of war, obsessions on the video games that they’ve regrettable invested their entire youth on, two cents on how the army should be run, ostentatious and embarrassingly incorrect insistence on how the ammunition and weapons (that I’m specialised in) work, etc.

The country and its people has a nauseous inability to stop talking about themselves.

The need to vociferate opinions and beliefs and life stories at every opportunity borders on exasperation. Not a single opportunity to have their voices heard should ever be wasted, even though it’s an exhibition of which they are the audience. I’m the one after all exhibiting the goods, not the audience that can’t seem to control their inner exhibitionist tendencies.

It’s just like how casual conversation of our generation become a great contest for attention. I did this today countered by speaking of that, I did this…, and then parried away by anyway, I was doing this. It is a ceaseless dialectic of thesis and antithesis without ever a synthesis. There is no conversation – there is no intercourse of thought, no convergence of emotion, no interplay of concern, no intersecting point, not even a parallel evolution of dialogue. It’s just two people obnoxiously screaming aloud anecdotes of their lives to deaf walls that would not listen but merely want to do the same back.

Attention is the currency of our time – it is the viewership, the likes, the favourites, the readership, the unread and ignored social media postings. And attention is scarce. Scarcity of anything amidst great wants inevitably breeds ugly behaviour.

Like that of a middle-aged lady who revealed that she came by only to see if anybody would ever paid attention to a “senile old woman” like her, and then tirades on how the youth and the community these days don’t give a damn about her. The last I check, the community didn’t owe you a damn living, and I don’t owe you any damn attention. It’s as if the you speak only for the sole purpose of reminding the world of your resentfulness towards it. It reeks of self-importance and self-absorption.

It’s nauseating, repugnant and entirely loathsome. And it’s a general lovelessness that encompasses this great attention deficit of our country.

Then of course, you have the parents of the heartlanders: they live for their kids. And because they live for someone other than themselves, they’ve transcended that gross attention deficit. (And kids are either outright annoying or overpoweringly endearing.)

And of course you have the random and entirely sincere elderly uncle who comes up to you and says, “谢谢你们保护我们!” (thank you for protecting us)

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