“…what passes for sustained attention is actually a series of successive efforts to bring attention back to the same thing, considering it again and again with unwavering consistency.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about attention lately. Or more accurately – a lack of it. There is a great deal of discussion about the attention economy and who is in charge of what we focus on. This is not a new problem. Aristotle lamented distraction over 300 years before the birth of Christ and we’re still struggling to keep our eyes on the road. But modern technological advancements have put the universe in the palm of our hands.
Unfortunately, they located it right next to Tik-Tok.
Recent events have caused many magicians to shift to some online incarnation of their live performances. This transition requires more than a webcam. It requires a rethink of how we can maintain an audiences attention on devices so perfect for delivering distraction.
In the real world we have the power to physically fill a performance space, to look into a spectator’s eyes, to touch a hand, and engage in a million micro moments that come together to create a complete performance. Even then - it can be hard to hold an audience’s attention.
Moving those moments through a screen is challenging. It’s difficult to maintain audience connection when the means by which the show is delivered is also notifying the viewer of a Pintrest update and message from Twitter. These distractions pull the viewer from the moment just as a cell phone ringing does in the middle of a live show. The difference is that these distractions aren’t occurring just past the footlights – they’re happening in a room across town (or the country) - and the performer often isn’t even aware they’re occurring.
It could be that many magicians are simply not up to the task of crossing this divide. Nor should all magicians feel an obligation to do so. I still believe some mysteries need three dimensions to be truly enjoyed. But if you set off down the virtual road, I would wager that success lies in understanding that the online show is its own unique undertaking. Not a place to simply showcase your live show but the opportunity to present an entirely new one. It requires that we not only master new skills as performers, but also that we educate our virtual audiences on what is required from them. Will it be worth your attention? Only time will tell.