By James Strauss
“Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed. To comprehend a nectar requires the sorest need.” Emily Dickinson
What is the single most important human drive that humanity doesn’t possess a word to properly describe;
The need for attention.
The human need for attention is not only fundamental to the survival of individual members of the species; it is also key to the survival of the species as a whole. Despite its primacy to the human species it is not readily acknowledged. It is often hidden, deep inside the very heart of every person’s emotional center. The need for attention by every member of the species isn’t necessarily apparent in everyday communication with one another, and in fact, is often denied. Around the world, media of all kinds compete for consumers using the lure of providing the latest, hottest or most salacious stories. These outlets have correctly deduced that their consumers equate their own worth with the amount of attention the “News” they possess receives. The power associated with being merely the bearer of attention grabbing information is emblematic of how foundational the need for attention from other humans is. Social media was born only a few years ago on the Internet, and its growth, in every area, is one of the most phenomenal stories in all of human history. People join sites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with others, but also to garner attention for themselves. Often, though, members deny any purpose other than facilitating their ability to reach out and connect with others. With the rapid expansion of this new form of communication media, there has been a growing recognition of what is really stimulating member participation. As these drives are discovered, the media has taken action to harness and turn the phenomenon into hard cash. What were once open forums for communication, are now controlled online environments where the communication and interaction is more limited. The sites themselves often suffer from the same craven needs for attention that the individuals using the sites seem to possess in such unlimited quantity.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat and others have begun to ration the amount of “attention” the users receive by designing mathematical algorithms to harness, limit, and even deny users the attention they crave. “Boosting” is a word that was recently invented to cover one of the results of the application of limiting algorithms and participation tools. To “boost” an online comment is the practice of paying an Internet site to ensure that a comment is available to people, who earlier might have been able to see the comment for free. The sites now limit participation, controlling how many comments can be made, the amount of words allowed in any one comment, and even the content of such comments. These social media sites are not necessarily setting limits to make communication easier, clearer or improve its quality. They are limiting the amount, and type, of user participation to cash in on what they have come to recognize as the overwhelming need of humans to be noticed, to be paid attention to.
And as every teacher, or parent of a large family knows, this need to be noticed in some manner isn’t limited to positive feedback. Attention is attention, even if the attention isn’t favorable (As repeat visits to the principle’s office, and imprisoned serial murderers desire to be interviewed have demonstrated).Why is attention alone so vital? Sociobiology provides some understanding. If E. O. Wilson’s heavily researched conclusions are to be believed, it is evident that the success of human survival is dependent upon the results of sexual attraction leading to interaction. Male members of the species are theoretically capable of unlimited sexual contacts, and have the ability to reproduce with as many women as they can have sexual contact with. Female members of the same species are limited to conceiving approximately one child every 12 months. But that same female is not limited when it comes to whom the progenitor of each child may be. Strategic sexual success is dependent on the ability of the participants to have contact and interaction with members of the opposite sex. Genetic survival (the strength of the gene pool) also favors those groups who have the most diverse and highest amount of engagement among sexual partners
It would appear, then, from every scientific source available, that the need humans have to gain and hold the attention of other humans has little or nothing to do with conscious and willing intent. Humans are hard-wired to want attention. But, as with almost all other primal aspects of our nature, this basic emotional need is cloaked, and rarely admitted to. Humans who admit to needing attention are frequently seen as ‘self-promoting’, arrogant or in the most pejorative way possible, “needy.” People who accuse others of wanting or needing too much attention invariably are angry enough, or clever enough, to minimize such attention-getters in order to replace those honestly admitted needs with there own (more deceptively presented).
Joseph Campbell, as great an anthropologist as Wilson was a sociobiologist, very elegantly and impressively proved that many human beliefs are founded upon myths that have very little in the way of facts or science to support them. Campbell’s best selling book, Power of Myth, remains popular thirty years later, and is in its sixtieth edition. That all humans need or want solitude is a myth. That any human can function, living alone, off in the woods like Walden, is a myth. (The very rarity of men of great solitude and the books they wrote, no doubt contributes to their remaining bestsellers to this very day). The human species goes nowhere except into extinction by living and being alone. The Eskimos became isolated by the extreme geography and weather of the region in which they live. Some small numbers survive to this day. How did these men and women, living virtually alone with intensely interbred gene pools, fair against other groupings of man on the planet? They survived, but… All humans need the attention of other humans, all the time. However, most humans will not admit that. The next time someone wants to take your photo, and you don’t want to allow it, reflect on the fact that, in the reality of success strategy human existence, you are lying. You are lying so that the photographer will not see you as needing attention. But by not allowing the photographer to focus on you, and take a picture, and by stating this denial position, you will get more attention than if the photographer had been allowed to take the photo.
We will all profit as a species if we can stop denying our own attention needs and come to accept them, and embrace not only our own needs, but the vast needs of others too.