How do brands and individuals make a splash in the attention economy of social media?
They need to stand out with something so unusual, so extreme, and so noteworthy that people can’t resist sharing it and talking about it.
As a native of Philadelphia and lifelong hockey fan, I couldn’t miss exhibit A in the battle to win in the attention economy: Gritty. A kind of google-eyed, orange-bearded abomination that was so bad, fans soon deemed him good.
Gritty is the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, although he is clearly designed with a rounded belly that resembles the beloved Phanatic of Philadelphia’s baseball team. Is he trolling the Phanatic? It’s hard to tell when Gritty’s eyes start rolling around as he saunters about the arena.
It seemed that Gritty was everywhere for his first week. Everyone had a hot take. Memes quickly adopted Gritty. Late Night show appearances followed. Gritty wasn’t always an endearing mascot, even issuing threats to the mascots of opposing teams.
Of course, it’s all part of an act to win over attention in today’s social media driven world. Gritty demands an opinion, and his deviation from the traditional norms of a sports mascot ensures heated disagreements that spark only more discussion. The cuddly Penguin that hugs children in Pittsburgh can’t possibly drive our attention and passion quite like Philadelphia’s orange monstrosity that haunts their nightmares.
Gritty shows us that brands, companies, and individuals hoping to make a splash on social media need to break rules, shock social media users, and spark fierce debates. In fact, a study of food trends on social media have illustrated this trend as well.
It’s not the traditional ice cream sundae or neatly arranged hamburger that is photographed, shared, liked, and discussed on social media. A documentary on viral establishments found that the ice cream has to be mounded to irresponsible heights and then slathered with an inordinate amount of candy. The hamburger needs to be literally inedible, with meat and toppings mounded up and then doused with various sauces.
A few years ago a sociologist friend of mine noted this trend among the new atheists, who appeared to be falling over themselves with their insults of Mother Theresa. By the same token, the Christian leaders who can make the boldest, strongest proclamations about the culture war issue of the day are the ones who get clicks, likes, and shares.
What does the attention economy (and Gritty) have to do with prayer? Unfortunately, a lot.
When I asked my newsletter subscribers about their greatest struggle with prayer, the majority reported distracting thoughts. This wasn’t multiple choice. I left the question open-ended, and still the responses were striking in their similarity.
The author of the Cloud of Unknowing spent a significant amount of time addressing the challenge to pray in silence and to be present for God when thoughts kept barging in like a nosey sibling. Writing this book in the 1300’s long before the distractions of today, we can only begin to imagine how many challenges we face today when we seek stillness before God.
In the attention economy, brands aim to keep their ad campaigns and products on your mind. News organizations and individuals are also striving to capture your attention each day. The more troubling the story, the sharper the conflict, the harder the edge, the better.
We are constantly being disrupted by social media for the sake of our attention. Our thoughts are being filled with controversies, hot takes, opinions, extremes, conflicts, and emergencies because these are the keys to winning in the attention economy.
Is it any wonder that prayer is a struggle with so many thoughts breaking into our silent spaces?
If you are struggling to pray, consider what kinds of thoughts are bounding around in your mind and invading your moments of quiet.
Where are these thoughts coming from?
Are they necessary thoughts that you can act on?
Can you block the unnecessary thoughts from taking shape?
When I realized that I had given far too much free real estate in my mind to news stories and social media personalities who were only absorbing my time and energy, I made significant changes to my daily social media and news consumption.
I avoid radio and television news so that I can have greater control over the news stories fighting for my attention. I limit my use of social media with the Stay Focused app and have removed Twitter and Facebook from my phone.
Of course, being a lifelong Flyers fan, I still found out about Gritty. I did my best to avoid having an opinion beyond the obvious observation that a slightly unhinged, fun-loving, in-your-face monster feels about right for a Philadelphia sports team.
Stewing over Gritty, the latest controversy on Twitter, or the spin on the latest crisis in the news rarely does myself or the problems at hand any good.
There will always be a time and place for deep reflection and action. When it comes to becoming healthy, grounded people who are shaped by God’s loving presence, we do well to guard our minds from unnecessary distractions and conflicts.
We may find it easier to pray or to be mindful of God each day if we are more discerning about the time we spend on our screens, even if WE WON’T BELIEVE what Gritty does next…