Dec
14
2009

Christmas, and our attention budget

This is about Communications + Community + Culture + Economics + Fun + Health

I’ve long been intrigued by the concept of an attention economy; that is, an economy in which attention is the organizing principle: it has real value, you can sell your attention, you must pay to get others’ attention, some people’s attention is worth more than others’, and so on. If we consider our own lived experience in these terms (how do I get attention, from whom; where shall I give my attention), many affluent Westerners may find a lens that  throws a whole raft of modern stressors into sharp relief:

  • there is so much that demands our attention (not enough hours in the day); and
  • our success can usefully be measured in how much attention we get (who wants to talk to you? who cares what you think?).

This morning I enjoyed reading an article at harvardbusiness.org: Why We Don’t Care About Information Overload. Working from the premise that ‘our attention has value,’ the author points out just how low a value many of us place on it. As he puts it, roughly, ‘We open junk mail, we watch junk television, we read junk email.’

If we are overloaded with matters demanding our attention, he says, it’s because we are selling our attention too cheaply. Even among those who’ve weaned themselves off television and who screen carefully for junk, I’ll bet it’s easy to think of various kinds of brain candy, rotting our metaphysical and spiritual teeth, that we’d be healthier to do without.

A strangely serendipitous juxtaposition: a Christmas skit by the Kids In The Hall, from their 1996 movie Brain Candy. Happy holidays, everyone, and thanks for stopping by!