SCOT BELLAVIA: Our Radius of Attention

In Roanoke, the arteries out of town point you to Buchanan and Lexington, Lynchburg, Christiansburg, and Blacksburg. When I moved to Knoxville, the gigantic green highway signs read Chattanooga, Nashville, Asheville—Atlanta! These big cities felt foreign, and I knew my position on the globe had shifted.

My radius of travel shifted, which was exciting because, let’s face it, there’s more to do in Chattanooga than there is in Christiansburg. The point, though, is that where you center yourself affects what you see.

The rising adult in college wants to change the world in every way. Experienced adults want to suppress this naivete, but they practice it in their screen-time. The 24-hour news cycle broadcasts everything going on everywhere. And social media makes users think it’s possible to share thoroughly our opinion on everything—that we should have an opinion on everything.

To be aware of everything going on and hold an opinion on all of it is something we ought to only expect of candidates in a debate. Even then, when they get elected, we ridicule their incapacities as a politician.

A friend said she doesn’t think we were meant to be aware of everything going on; it’s not something we can handle emotionally. How can we possibly respond to the posts in our feed as they each expect? Celebrate someone’s baby, then up pops an ad. Grieve the death of someone’s loved one, then laugh at a mindless meme. Sympathize with someone’s first-world problem, then do justice on a third-world problem. My friend called it “a daily roller coaster” —I agree.

When our radius of attention spans the globe, when we are looking everywhere, our opinions can only stay shallow and our efforts ineffectual. What happens if we localize our focus?

Knoxville is in EST but is only an hour from CST. And, for work, I often correspond with folks an hour behind me, in Nashville. When my radius of travel shifted, a new consideration, time zones, presented itself. Likewise, when we shift our radius of attention, we’ll encounter factors we weren’t aware of when we held an opinion on everything.

It works this way: The algorithms of our social media accounts dictate the news we are aware of by giving us more of what we’ve viewed. And our circle of friends, family, and work associates are as much an influencer as anyone we watch online. These inputs guide us in prioritizing what are hot button issues to us and, as we delve into our priorities, we discover nuance.

So, one person gets fixated on climate change, another on abortion. They can only talk past one another because they have cursory understandings of all involved in the other topic. Whereas, if a pro-choicer debated a pro-lifer, and abortion was the hill for both of them to die on, they’d have a shared vocabulary because they had spent more time in this one issue.

Considering nuance as we dedicate time to something local deepens our shallow opinions. We are more informed on that which is within our purview and, thus, can effect greater change in the world immediately around us. Theoretically, everyone doing this improves everything going on everywhere.

While our radius of attention may alter over time, by moving cities, clicking on a different topic’s YouTube recommendation, or meeting new people, we must remember that we cannot tackle it all, so where we can do the most good is where we keep our focus.

– Scot Bellavia


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