The Economy of Attention

The Economy of Attention

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, you’ll have realized that we’re in a bit of an attention crisis at the moment. It’s being both willingly and unwillingly hijacked from the moment we wake up to the moment we put down our phones, roll over, and go to sleep. This makes the tasks we set out to accomplish throughout the day seem harder and more laborious, as we have our ever-wandering minds to contend with.

The main culprit in this is technology. While communication, knowledge and information have become more accessible, so have distractions, and we’re living in an era where everything seems to be vying for our gaze. The constant connection to social media, in particular, has no doubt affected our attention spans. The gratification we feel is instant but transient - how quickly do you forget that meme you laughed at yesterday afternoon when you probably should have been finishing off a report?

So not only are we overscheduled, but we’re also overstimulated, which fuels a perpetual cycle inducive of procrastination, f.o.m.o. and anxiety. Attention is vital in our day-to-day lives and without the capacity to hone our focus, it's difficult to learn something new, retain information, or simply carry out responsibilities to the best of our ability.

When it comes to the content we’re inundated with, quantity is trumping quality. The proliferation of algorithms which seem to be getting smarter by the minute means the power of prioritizing certain information is out of our hands. We often only see what we already believe in, due to ‘recommended’ and ‘just for you’ content. It’s normal to veer towards material that is in line with our existing beliefs, but we don’t want to be doing that all the time. Exposing ourselves to conflicting points of view can be beneficial by enhancing creative, out-of-the-box thinking and reducing prejudice.

Then there’s infinite scroll, the tech tool that hasn’t actually been around for too long but has no doubt sucked you into a time trap at some point or another. We wind up consuming inane information in large volumes all too easily. Perhaps aside from weakening our focus, being bottle-fed culture and content in this way is also affecting the development of our own personal tastes and interests.

Here are three tips for regaining control of your attention:

1. Be selective of the content you choose to consume. Think about the value you get from the newsletters you subscribe to and the Instagram accounts you follow - are they worthy of your time and attention? If you have to debate it, unsubscribe and unfollow!

2. Stop multitasking. A 2018 ‘State of Attention’ report stated that “attention is finite, and the more we attempt to divide it, the more we lose focus and struggle to retain what we learn.” So honing in on one job at a time means you’re more likely to complete it quicker and better. This includes double-screening aka watching Netflix with your phone in your hand.

3. Break out of the information bubble by reading more books and printed material. At least this way you can be certain that the information or entertainment you’re consuming hasn’t been curated by a machine to fit your supposed preferences.

*Bonus Tip* Remeber that we can all benefit from finding mental, physical and emotional stimuli elsewhere - take a walk, have lunch with a friend, basically engage in more real-life activities that make you forget about your phone.

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