This is something we’re all familiar with, as there are an infinite number of things that need our attention every single day. From our jobs, to our families, to socializing, to making time for ourselves with a good book, not to mention the difficult task of important decision making – they all demand our mental focus.
On top of this, we’re bombarded with never-ending notifications from our social media, our phones, and our email, all of which try to engage our attention too. There are waves of information everywhere fighting for our limited time and energy. It’s clear that attention is a resource and a very precious one. This means that paying attention comes at a cost as there is only so much of it we can give.
The Attention Economy
In fact, various companies now understand the value of our attention and are cultivating their business models in a way that is able to help people manage what they pay attention to. For example, Apple iPhones have the option of checking your “screen time,” which measures the amount of time we spend on our phones. This is a feature that was developed after concerns emerged over the enormous amounts of attention given to our devices. In addition, some social media platforms have provided users the option of turning off likes and comments, as many have argued this feedback hijacks our attention to further seek likes, shares, and retweets.
The attention economy is anything that aims to capture our limited attention.
Today it could be argued that we live in the “attention economy,” a concept forged by Herbert A. Simon, a psychologist, economist, and Nobel Laureate. He argued that attention was the “bottleneck of human thought.” Simply put the attention economy is anything that aims to capture our limited attention.
Ultimately giving our undivided attention to the wrong things could result in wasting our precious time and energy, thus making our daily life even more complicated and difficult.
Where You Put Your Attention Is Where Your Life Is Going To Grow
To dive deeper, Michael H. Goldhaber further described this phenomenon as the global economy shifting from a material-based economy to one where human attention is heavily emphasized. As our everyday life is heavily dependent on our attention, it’s important to be able to manage it in today’s “information economy,” which can be a challenge due to the staggering amount of information available. For this reason, Simon also argued that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
Natasha Dow Schüll, anthropologist and author of Addition by Design, wrote for the Guardian stating, “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention — which is measured in clicks and time spent.” How much time did you spend scrolling Instagram? Did you click on an ad? How long did you read that article? All of your time and attention are computed as metrics of value that companies then use to improve their business strategies to garner even more of our time and attention.
Your current reality is a product of the things you have been paying the most attention to.
We need to be aware of who and what has our attention because where we put our attention is where our life is going to grow. Your current reality is a product of the things you have been paying the most attention to.
This means that we must evaluate what things are worthy of our time, concentration and focus – or we risk straying away from the things and responsibilities most important to us. We can ask ourselves, what is most important and meaningful in my life? And then give our attention, one of our most precious resources, to those things.
When you look back on your life, will you feel satisfied to see that you've spent your time scrolling through social media and "keeping up" with your peers (and even strangers') lives through a screen, or will the idea of that fill you with regret? Alternatively, what if you look back and see those hours and days spent in the presence of loved ones, laughing, talking, and allowing yourself to be fully in the moment? This is not meant to be an attack on anyone's habits – we all fall into the trap of putting our attention and energy into our smart phones (after all, that's what they are designed to make us do).
As our lives become busier and more chaotic, there’s so much pressure in today’s information economy to steal and capture this scarce resource away from things that need it most. This is why it’s always a good idea to refocus your attention on the people around you and on the things that actually matter. This can be done simply, by being mindful of what you pay attention to, something which has been argued by many evolutionary psychologists.
Life is short and precious, so use your attention as a psychological tool to make your life most worthwhile.
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