Article: Camel Attitude for tranquility in an attention-focused society

Likes, and the absence of them, are known to have devastating effects on the mental tranquility of creators. I work in an overwhelming absence of social media approval and creative conversations and am at peace. But withstanding isolation in a world that encourages pretending to have an abundance of attention requires developing a certain mindset, in creative fashion.

Today’s society is attention-focused. At least in the online world. In the early days of the internet it was filled with websites, newsgroups, and other places to share information, stories, and play games together. Any like or share buttons did not have the same gravity as they have now on popular social media sites. Things such as people becoming a ‘partner’ or ‘affiliate’ to a social media site as long as they dedicated x amount of hours and hitting other targets did not exist. Social media – under influence of ad revenue and shareholders instructing code manipulation to capture attention – changed that. And they changed people.

What manifested is a world wherein the illusion is made that attention is in abundance. That everyone can create meaningful connections and get showered in tokens of appreciation for sharing their art or stories. One might even create comfortable income out of it. This is not quite true. Abundance often lowers the value of something in people’s mind so they are less likely to act upon something immediately. Mixed with code meant to maximize someone’s screen time this creates a recipe for mental anguish. People get convinced they should be getting a certain amount of attention based on what the illusion sells them. But the reality is that it’s a lot of smoke & mirrors and includes factors that the person themself has little effect on. But the illusion makes it seem that any reason for a lack of attention or appreciation is the fault of the person themself. Their shortcoming.

This is seen when people who are very driven to share their art and who have a certain life-goal sink into complete meltdowns when something they shared on social media isn’t garnering a certain amount of appreciation that they expected it to. This effect is stronger when earlier works have gotten great amounts of appreciation. There’s a real risk that at the moment that a certain expectation is not met that all of such a person’s skills and self-worth are deemed ‘non-existent’. That any life goals are unattainable. I’ve seen this happen multiple times. I’ve felt the whispers of such thoughts for myself when my own social media posts did not garner the attention that I expected (in the rare occasions that I expected something.)

At first I tried to set aside my envy of peers with huge follower numbers and instead tried to discover what it was that they did differently from me that caused them to be successful. As I observed I gradually noticed a few things. First, there’s a point where it doesn’t matter what someone posts: They are guaranteed to get hundreds of interactions regardless. They could post the most nonsensical or boring thing and it wouldn’t matter because there’s a point where the ‘what’ is no longer important at all. It’s about the ‘who’. And more specifically; it’s about other people feeling important or part of a group because they interact with someone they put on a pedestal. It’s the fans to the idol effect.

And secondly, there are numerous reasons why someone might not press a like button that have absolutely nothing to do with the post itself or the author of it. It makes no sense but pressing a like button is such an easy action to do that it is often forgotten; it is so abundant that its value diminishes. Or not registered as ‘show appreciation to the poster’ as the value. It’s more translated as an action to be taken when the one doing the action of pressing the button gets something out of it. And for the algorithm meant to maximize eyes on posts it is even a counter-intuitive action: it would rather have people scroll as fast as possible so more ads can be served.

So, taking both those things into consideration it’s making a lot less sense to allow such fickle concepts to have such a huge impact on one’s own mental peace and self-confidence. But, the economy of attention exists. The illusion is just that it’s in abundance. The illusion is the promise that we are all surrounded with hundreds of people, connections, conversations, appreciation, attention and that we are completely in control of manifesting those. And this is not true. Plenty of people do not have the charisma or the visibility to manifest the abundance that is alluded to. Through no fault of their own. They have to deal with the proof that the reality is that you’re not looking at abundance but scarcity. And the illusion appears so vivid it can make people run themselves into the ground because their success is ‘right around the corner’. They just have to grind ‘a bit more’. They aren’t ‘working hard enough right now’.

They are travelers in a desert running after a fata morgana – an illusion.

Surviving in a desert: be like a camel

I’ve had to see the meltdown of other people and I had to get told multiple times that ‘if I wasn’t making art for myself then it wasn’t worth making’ to realize the unsustainability of believing in such illusions. That believing in them is not a valid survival tactic if you operate in an environment of scarcity. A.K.A. a desert.

“It’s Time to Think Like Camels — Not Unicorns”

2020 – Alex Lazarow

The above quote is a cute sentence, very buzzworthy. It’s not my invention but I do resonate with the idea. I started resonating with it because I realized that over time I’ve been training myself to act like a camel in a desert in the way that I set my expectations for how my work is received. The original quote pertains to how to survive as a startup in harsh economic conditions. I find that developing a, let’s call it, Camel Attitude helps maintain tranquility for me personally in an attention-focused society.

Camel Attitude is about overcoming anguish in an environment of scarcity that sells the illusion of abundance. It focuses on the question of what something is worth to you and not about what something is worth to others. This is twofold: Something can have value to you because it’s literally worth something. As in: you can buy food with money but a like won’t guarantee a slice of bread on the table. And then something can also have value to you because it’s a cause or exercise you believe in. Knowing what something is worth to you and how to attain it provides a compass for deciding what to spent time on.

The things that I choose to spend my time on I choose to see as landmarks within the desert of scarcity. The compass points the way, and the landmarks visualize the distance. Some are small projects and therefore close by. Others are big and vague projects and mere dots on the horizon. But their end objectives always exist as a vision to give me something to go towards. As a project progresses – meaning travelling the desert brings me closer – these projects come into view as towns and cities. This whole exercise leans into the scarcity desert metaphor and I have an explorative nature, so this is what fit.

Traversing the desert: thriving on ones own power

The thing about deserts is that they are vast stretches of nothingness. They are not densely populated. So to understand that a desert is inherently empty means that it becomes both easier to keep going by my own power and to guard against the disappointment of my work being met with silence: If there are few people in the desert then I shouldn’t be surprised if most of what I do is met with silence. (On the plus side; when I do meet people in the desert then they get great appreciation from me. )

But to get through the desert is an exercise that relies entirely on my own power. There is no-one else to take steps for me. This is non-negotiable: Either I choose to take a step forward again and again until I reach my goal, or I don’t reach it. It is such an absolute term of agreement that instead of being terrifying it becomes sobering and empowering. Every step is a renewal of the understanding that this is what it means to act in respect of the things that have value to oneself. To not spend time chasing illusions. To understand that sitting down and feeling sorry because a project didn’t get the amount of attention you hoped for is all good and well but if you don’t choose to get up and move you’re going nowhere. And that if you sit around hoping for someone else to come along and help you up: Well, you might be sitting for a long while. So if you want to reach something? Get up and move!

The role of Love and Rage

It took me years to accept and to start feeling comfortable with this attitude. It revealed things. My goals became cities, mountains, outposts. The work the road I travelled in order to reach them. When I reached them they were often empty or there were just a handful of people exploring the city – a completed project – with me. The loudest voice was often silence. Over time I realized that that silence isn’t there when I am walking through the desert. Because that is all me. Only me. My pace. My resilience. And sure, sometimes the city is but a speck on the horizon and I doubt my ability to get there. The path becomes steep and difficult, or I fear that I won’t reach my goal within some period of time that I set for it. I sink into a pit of quicksand threatening to swallow me whole. What happens then is that I get angry. I rage at a feeling of loneliness. I don’t rage at having to climb a steep path but at having to do that all by myself. And I am surely unpleasant to be around when those feelings take hold. I become somber and focused, short in sentence and eventually my frustration can boil over until I rant.

And I feel guilty when that happens. I am a woman over 30 years of age and I still haven’t learned to not get angry? To not rant? Even if I understand the illusion and the reality of the desert?

No. I haven’t.
And, surprisingly, I shouldn’t.
Because feeling rage is a very important part of Camel Attitude when given a long moment of thought: What are the most powerful emotions in existence? Which spur humans to take the greatest actions? The answers are love and rage. Great love, and great rage.

I’ve always experienced great rage in my paths to developing skills. As a little girl I participated in my mother’s art classes along with other schoolgirls. We’d always be working diligently on our own little things while mum provided us with guidance and instruction. Unfortunately I had the bad luck to be bored very quickly with copying example pictures of Looney Tunes or Disney characters: I wanted to make my own things. Being too young to have the proper skills to do so and too inexperienced to properly explain to others the image that was in my mind I was the kid who would eventually get angry at the stupid paintbrush. And I got admonished for it.

People don’t handle it very well when someone is going through a phase of ‘this thing is not working out the way I want it to and that frustrates me greatly’. I get told often to give up. To not do something if it makes me that angry. But after years of ignoring that and seeing how that only improved my skills I’ve begun to see another pattern:

I exercise great love for my ability by being confident in them, regardless of anyone else. But when that falters, when the road gets steep and frustration gets high only great rage can get me through that. Right before I overcome a hurdle, break through a ceiling, there is a moment of rage that takes me forward. Because to break a ceiling, you need to punch it.
In the desert, love and rage are both equally necessary to take steps forward. In another sense, they are about loving oneself deeply enough to not stand still, and to be able to get angry enough to resist being held back. My great love builds things. It is my great rage that destroys the barriers that hold me back from exercising my great love.

In summary

To recap, here are the house rules of what I consider a Camel Attitude.

  • Acknowledge you’re in a desert of scarcity, and that its emptiness is not terrifying.
  • Understand that every step forward is by your own choosing, and that you are in absolute power because of that.
  • Envision every thing you desire to create as a city in the desert, and move ever forward to reach them as long as that is what you want to do.
  • Do not linger in empty cities hoping for other humans to come and compliment you. Leave cities in time without fear of the desert because only by traversing the desert do you progress.
  • Don’t forget to look back sometimes: it takes many buildings to form an impressive skyline. Don’t forget to admire yours every once in a while.
  • Build with great love in your heart. Break ceilings holding you back with great rage.
  • Be very kind to those you meet in the desert. They are treasures.

So far, by recalling these house rules I greatly appreciate when people compliment my work yet I do not suffer in the silence that surrounds most of what I do. Which in this day and age is a fantastic skill.

Be happy, be like a camel, keep moving forward, and be powerful. Be at peace.