How many times does the average person swipe or tap their phone per day? 2,617.
The Attention Economy
There’s a war on for our attention. It has been going on for a long time in newspapers, on radio and television. But it has really started to heat up, and there are new weapons in this war. Time is the most valuable thing we have in this world, the only thing we can’t buy more of, and if you want to make the most of this time then you need to understand this war and learn how to fight back.
There’s a saying that I first heard from my wise colleague Paul, “if a product you are using is free, then you are the product.” Your data and your eyeballs pay the bills. This applies to Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, Snapchat and many others, and you only have to look at their valuations to realise the stakes of this war.
Allen Ginsberg saw “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”, the updated version may well read “destroyed by continuous partial attention and unrealistic comparisons.” It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but you get the idea.
Train your subconscious
In Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’, battles are fought in the dream world to extract secrets and plant ideas in subject’s minds. Specialists help to train the subconscious of a subject in order to help them prevent others from hacking into their dreams.
Advertising and marketing have always attempt to play on personal biases and exploit emotion to tap into our deepest desires. The battle for attention goes further with push notifications, variable rewards and other tricks to get us addicted to a product or service.
You can train your subconscious to fight back and take control of your time by understanding how these tactics work and becoming aware of them. You should be the one determining where your attention is directed and when you use particular services (if at all).
If you’ve ever found yourself mindlessly scrolling, unlocking your phone and opening an app without consciously doing so, surprised when 10 or 20 minutes have passed while you were supposed to be doing something else then you might have fallen victim to these tactics.
This website is my attempt to understand the attention economy and to learn about the tactics and tricks used to compete for my attention. I hope to become more aware about the way I choose to direct my attention and to do so with more purpose.
Why is this important?
- Impacts our ability to focus and IQ
- Our attention spans are getting shorter
- Reduces our ability to cope with boredom, frustration and other negative feelings
- People hate it when you use your phone during dinner and at other important times.
- Mental health issues stemming from comparison with other people’s highlight reel
- Lack of sleep
What are the tactics they use?
- Variable rewards
- Never ending content (i.e. autoplay and infinite scroll)
- Push notifications
- Streaks (Snapchat, Messenger encourage you to maintain a streak)
How can you take control?
- Disable push notifications
- Put your phone on airplane mode and don’t unlock it until you’ve done something in the morning
What’s the upside?