Ask yourself this question: How many people are likely to want your attention today? Ten? Twenty? Fifty, maybe? That might be all the people you encounter face to face, but in truth it barely scratches the surface.
When you leave the house you will be swamped. Are you driving? Think about all the pedestrian crossings, other cars, road signs, traffic at junctions and roundabouts, indicators, brake lights, traffic lights? As soon as you get in your car the demands on your attention are changing second by second.
What about the shops? Bright signs wanting to grab your attention so they can tell you who they are, what they’ve got, why you need it and what it costs.
After all, “Your life will be emptier than a hermit’s address book without a PO490 Techno Bloaterburger! Get royally stuffed with a delicious cheesy topping for £49.99!”
And this is just the stuff you’re walking or driving past. Go on the internet for an hour and you’ll see another hundred or so ads. Sidebar ads. Popup ads. Little boxes wanting you to sign up so they can invade your inbox with some more.
Then, when you get home, there’s the telly. At the moment in the UK there are only a few channels which do not carry ads. The rest are commercial, which is fine. They would not be able to operate without this revenue and we would not be able to put the kettle on without missing something. Nonetheless, they are all designed to grab your attention and keep you staring at the TV. Grab after grab after grab.
And I haven’t even mentioned the shows themselves. Filled with action, drama, and excitement to keep you curious and stimulated to the end. The classic example is Soap Operas. They are the original television attention grabber.
Yes, but so what? It’s just a few adverts, isn’t it?
No. It isn’t. It’s much more organised than that.
The Attention Bureau
Did you know that Facebook hires Consultants called Attention Managers? Their job is to make sure that you respond to their advertising in the most efficient and profitable manner. And believe me, they are very far from being the only ones. All the major advertizers and message sellers employ these tactics.
Attention Management is big business. I mentioned Facebook earlier but they are just a tiny part of this global industry. Attention Management focuses on both an individual level and a collective one, targeting whole social groups when required.
It can operate in what’s called quasi-real-time, which is sort of like from now to the next few hours or so. Or it can operate over the longer term. This can be weeks or months depending on what they want you to do. Which is usually to buy or subscribe to something.
The truth is, every minute of your waking day, your attention is being taken from you by someone who wants to profit from it. It’s called ‘The Attention Economy’ and I promise you I am not making this up. Search for it on the web. It has rapidly expanded since the explosion of social and internet-base media.
And it’s all about You.
The Attention Economy regards Human attention as a commodity and its approach to the management of information is based on two principles:
1. Your attention is a resource
2. You only have a limited amount
Because of this, companies, corporations, political organizations are all spending fortunes trying to get your attention before someone else does. And before it runs out.
And it will run out.
Paying attention costs you. It costs you more than you realize. The situation I described above is highly stressful, not least because it leaves you unable to control anything that’s going on around you.
This in turn creates more stress and more distraction. When we allow this to continue unchecked for years we have ‘burnout’. A total inability to cope with anything for fear of the overwhelming stress.
And burnout can hit everyone, not just the ‘High Flyers’. Executives and home-makers alike, single parents unable to cope, or young people, so bombarded with images, messages and ‘rules for life’ that they don’t know which way is up anymore. Falling apart, facing alcoholism, drug abuse and the loss of everything. Please believe me, I’m not exaggerating.
And what for? Where’s the good in handing out this very valuable resource to people who only want to exploit it? Especially when your attention is the ONLY means you have of experiencing yourself and the world around you?
Your attention is worth more than Gold. Quite literally, when you consider how much these corporations are paying to get hold of it. It is precious and it is yours.
So let’s start looking after it.