This common saying implies that there is a finite amount of attention. And it’s true. The currency of attention is a blend of time, energy, and intentional presence.
I think the way we are paying attention is broken right now. At present we have a seemingly endless streams of new apps that we pay attention to in exchange for feel-good chemicals and social validation. Sure, there are aspects of productive information exchange and communal organization – but the engine that makes the machine run is based on you paying your attention in exchange for hits of dopamine. This dopamine keeps everyone coming back, and this reservoir of attention is sold in the form of advertising space. Think about that for a second – your attention quite literally has a monetary value attached to it. To marketers the terms Impressions and Cost-per-Click on social platforms are the keys to the game –
How can I get you to pay attention to what I want you to, and then click on it to continuing investing attention? Eventually, the investment will be returned to me in the form of purchases. If the profit I make on a product or service is greater than what is costs me to convince you to pay attention and buy it, I’ve perfected a money machine (see: e-commerce).
Our attention spans seems to grow shorter and shorter every year, and while the science is debatable, one thing is for sure –
We have become used to engaging in mentally low-effort tasks for hours upon hours in a day, and all these apps aim to better allow us to engage in their content with less and less effort. Scrolling through instagram is like floating downstream (effortless)… reading Aurelius’ Meditations, learning the human body, or meditating are like going to the gym. And what I’m saying is that for some reason, we just decided it was okay to never work out and donate our minds and attention spans to nothingness.
Maybe the saddest thing is how this paradigm translates to our personal lives as well. We get exhausted by prolonged social interaction, instead wanting to get back home to our cozy abodes of easy dopamine. Text messages for birthdays, likes on posts for keeping in touch, and inability to sit through reading a book for more than a few minutes at a time so instead listening to the 10-minute audio summary. If you only watch the highlight reel, you’re missing most of the movie. We need to be there for all of it. There isn’t anything more important happening than life itself.
If you only watch the highlight reel, you’re missing most of the movie
We live in the easiest time in history. Our clothes and dishes are automatically washed. Robot vacuums sweep the floors. We can have a full meal appear before us using a few motions of the fingertips (the efficiency is magical, isn’t it?). Bags of carefully selected groceries can appear at our doorstep on regular intervals with no additional actions needed.
What are we so busy with?
I’m personally guilty of all of this too, and this is more an elucidation of the problem than it is a diagnostic for it’s solution. The first step forward is seeing things as they are, and understanding perhaps this isn’t the way they should be. Perhaps there is another way of doing this. One in which we reclaim our attention and allocate to those things that make our lives whole.
The sand in hourglass stops for no one.