attention as commodity (or me as self righteous luddite)


100 years ago fortunes were made from oil, timber, iron, and other (finite) natural resources. Our great grand parents and grandparents were willing consumers as the world changed in ways unimaginable in the years before them. Pollution and sustainability were not even on their radar.

Entrepreneurs of our time are making fortunes competing for another finite resource; our attention. We are similarly willing consumers of media that apparently enhances our lives. Digital connectedness is increasingly ubiquitous in the same way we take electricity for granted. A leading global research company has recently changed its questions about the frequency of people’s ‘internet use’ to include an option “almost always connected”. Current US data has 20% of people selecting this option; not surprising given the current habitual use of smart phones.

Progress brings incredible benefits. Very few of us however, even the most insightful, can predict the unintended unhealthy or negative consequences of social and technology trends. Early motorists bumping down dirt roads would not have conceived of experiences associated with metro peak hour commuting today in LA or Melbourne. As we all embrace electronic and social media, can we imagine the pathologies associated with being constantly connected?

I have slowly been opting out. I should say that I know a few people who are passionate advocates of digital technology who aren’t addicts. But they are rare.

We love a convert. Christians love a reformed criminal or serious sinner. These days we similarly love a converted social media addict, the instagram celebrity who turns off her account. We are less enamoured with the wise folks who never got sucked in in the first place. Funny that.

I’m neither a recovering addict or someone who has never been immersed and drawn in. I would never have admitted it, but I loved being the FourSquare mayor of a major airport Lounge – figured I’d made it as a frequent flyer. Crap. But I always got angry that people seemed so confused by the difference between popularity and value, and the pathetic way we all like to cultivate a particular online persona and image.

Let’s not give away our attention to media. What I attend to shapes my life. Start by switching your phone to airplane mode for a period everyday. Make eye contact with people around you. Lie on the grass and look at the clouds. Go for a walk and leave your phone at home, listen to the birds rather than your playlist.

I want to avoid having to get converted in a few years time. I’d prefer to be an early adopter of cultivating a healthy integration of digital living. Do I really need to watch those videos of people doing odd or crazy things? No. How much value does seeing fabricated selfies of people I hardly know actually add to my life? Zero. Can I absorb the information in posts from 100s of people in my social media feeds. Nup.

Do I love and like some people and can social media enhance my connectedness with them? You betcha. But that is a completely different proposition from the fear of missing out that has us giving more attention to our screens than the wonderful faces and hearts of people around us right now.