Monique Keiran: Life is in the details, so pay attention and reap rewards

Nature Boy noted recently that he has acquired extra powers of vision and perception.

“I’m seeing all kinds of violets, mauves and yellows in the colour of the water that I never noticed before,” he said. “Watching all of those painting shows must be having an impact.”

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We were walking along the coast in East Sooke Park. It was a change from his usual weekend activities. In recent months, those have included Portrait Painter of the Year, Landscape Painter of the Year and other reality TV-type art shows on YouTube.


“I’m curious about how these people see and transfer what they see into their art,” he says, “even if I don’t always like what they produce.”

It appears he has picked up some of those ways of seeing.

The same thing happened when he learned his birds.

Years ago, all the tweets, twitters and trills heard during a walk in the woods were just generic bird calls. Now, he can pick out each of the calls and name the birds making them.

What had once been a wall of chatter at a woodland bird party resolved into the voices of friends and acquaintances. Chestnut-backed chickadee. Nuthatch. Olive-sided flycatcher. Bald eagle. Hello, Stellar’s jay. Good morning, pileated woodpecker. What a song, song sparrow!

And we experienced something similar when we learned the names of the region’s native plants. “Green shrubs” acquired specific and separate identities. They became evergreen huckleberry, hairy manzanita, and salal, for example. “Conifer” resolved into Douglas-fir, grand fir, hemlock, shore pine and cedar. The generic green-ness separated into individual acquaintances that opened the door to learning more about and appreciating them for their own unique characteristics.

The more we learned, the more we recognized. The more we recognized, the more we saw. The more we saw, the more attention we paid.

Nature Boy and I pay that kind of higher-resolution attention to plants and animals in our green spaces, but others might focus on other aspects of their environment.

Where I see “red car” or possibly “red sedan,” somebody else might recognize make, model, year and other features. Where I see “shoes,” others might be able to name the brand, designer, style, and even how much they sell for.

What we each choose to pay attention to is as individual as our tastes and preferences. And what we each pay attention is what we, as individuals, value.

Paying attention and learning about something in detail makes it personal. It adds breadth and depth to everyday life.

You could also say that the very act of attending to something also gives it value. And that, in turn, increases the likelihood we’ll pay closer attention to it and attend to it in the future and for longer periods.

Generally, it’s not a behaviour we give much thought to. We see something, it interests us, we pay more attention and so on. Big deal.

But entire industries are founded and funded by attention. The founders, boards of directors and stockholders of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube and the other social-media and internet-service companies know very well how valuable our attention is. Their algorithms assess our every Like, Share, Tweet/RT and click — learning about our preferences, interests, relationships and personalities. From this massive cache of data that is enriched daily, they come to know each of us better than we know ourselves. And they use that information to capture and hold our attention, and to profit from it.

Hello, Nature Boy — here are some other art videos you might be interested in and — well, looky here, here’s an ad for a product that must have been made just for you. Hello, pointy-headed columnist, you’ll certainly be interested in — Wait! you have three notifications from Facebook that you must absolutely respond to right away. …

Whatever our interests, whatever we choose to attend to — however we spend our hours, online or otherwise —we create value. And somebody has probably found a way to profit from it.

And if we’re lucky, we profit from how we spend our attention, too, benefitting from the enriched depth of our observation of and appreciation for whatever it is we attend to.

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