The Interest Stack and Attention Debt

Me in 2003, deep in thought watching the Cambodia jungle.
Me in 2003, deep in thought, watching the Cambodian jungle, back when life was simple.

Levels of analysis is a way of studying a political problem from (generally) three different perspectives: individual, state, and the international system. Using this framework I started examining my interests — all of the things I keep tabs on and projects I am involved in outside of my day job. There are a lot, and I fear I might have to go on another information diet. This is simply an exercise in mapping all the directions my brain is being pulled in a at once. Once that is achieved, I can better apply the scalpel to gain back more time to think.

Lining my interests up by scale like some sort of technology stack I came up with the following categories:

  • Individual
  • Family
  • Community
  • Citizen
  • Global
  • Space

Here is a breakdown of each one:

Individual

I attempt to make time for thinking and writing, but I end up doing a lot more reading, as you can tell by the reviews on this site.

This year a personal keyword has been minimalism. This is influenced by my wife who has helped me get rid of a lot of unnecessary stuff (like my physical library). She is like my personal Marie Kondo. Minimalism is such an interesting topic, especially its intersection with politics and community design. More on this in the future.

Finally, one big concern for me is exercise… as in, I am not getting enough of it.

Family

Immigration policy, grassroots immigration support, child education, bilingualism: these are the topics I think about every day as I spend time with my wife and kids, and it ties into the types of communities I am involved in. Needless to say, raising kids and having a successful marriage takes time and attention.

Community

I am part of a few communities in my city. Foremost is the tech community. I regularly attend meetups like StartupCoffeeKL and keep tabs on local industry organizations like Accelerate Okanagan and the Kelowna Innovation Society. We are trying to build something here, and I try to be engaged.

The Japanese immigrant community is something else I am obliquely involved in. I help out where I can at the Japanese Children’s Playgroup, and like to hear about how other immigrant groups are doing and connect people where I can.

Recently I have taken on a new project in a new community helping Syrian refugee families. More on this in a future post.

It is not all serious stuff though. I do fun things like playing Dungeons & Dragons. There are a couple groups I play in and OKTabletop has a community of nearly 200 that meet up regularly.

Citizen

The citizen level actually encompasses three sub-levels: local, regional and federal. I try to stay apprised of municipal and provincial issues. I am a bit of a newshound (though I have criticisms of local media), but I tend to only be versed in the “issues of the day” rather than long-standing issues. That is a weakness.

At the federal level Canadian foreign policy is a particular interest. I read a couple of daily nationwide newspapers (via RSS) and frequent sites like iPolitics and OpenCanada.

Internationally I keep tabs on Japan (for obvious reasons) but also Iran (I still want to go back someday). I have been reading more on the history of ISIS, and am concerned that in light of the Syrian refugee crisis, the war in Yemen has fallen off the radar.

Global

These are generally social issues that are usually global but may have different local outcomes.

Technology ethics, as “software eats the world”, and the politics of technology has been an interest for a long time. My thinking on this has changed drastically over the years. We have a book club where we get together to talk about topics related to this, and other socio-economic issues.

I have written a lot about personal privacy and surveillance over the years, especially on the net. I follow these issues through things like the EFF and a number of people on Twitter.

Newsmedia and the floundering of the Fourth Estate is a concern. For this topic NiemanLab’s daily newsletter is great, as of course is CANADALAND.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis has inspired me to take action. I am volunteering at a local organization (ORCA) for supporting refugee families to be settled in Kelowna.

Space

Somehow, some day I would like to pursue this more professionally, but now I just keep tabs on it through the Planetary Society and the Liftoff podcast. On Twitter I follow a bunch of space orgs and space people.


That feels like a overly diverse interest stack. There are quite a few meetups and projects that I am committed to. And all this is in addition to my professional life, in which I am learning all sorts of new things in a very ambiguous environment as I work on our startup. Can you say Cry for help!? 😉

Hopefully this simple framework helps you think about your own situation, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed. Like technical debt and organizational debt, if your interest stack gets too convoluted you will begin to suffer attention debt. I think it is time for me to close out some of this debt, and work on my attention balance.

Author: Chad Kohalyk

Bellatrist, communitarian, tech contrarian. Generous with Likes. http://chadkohalyk.com