Max Antonucci

Journalist turned Full-time Coder, Part-time Ponderer

Your Attention is a Currency

December 21, 2017

Something I always marvel at with today’s society is just how in-demand everyone’s attention is. In many cases it’s in more demanded, and more easily wasted, than our money.

In a weird way I find it comforting. The whole “everyone staring at their screens together” meme isn’t just the downfall of humanity, but a result of changed economics. Granted that’s not much better, but it gets me a few extra minutes of sleep before I silently stare at a wall after waking up in the middle of the night.

Regardless of how it affects my routine, attention is still a hot commodity today. As such, it should be budgeted and saved in the same way.

The Attention Economy

As a whole, this “attention economy” isn’t new or surprising. In a digital world people expect so much to be free, especially entertainment. Often the only way to profit from something is targeted ads, which only work when businesses know as much about us as possible. So they need people using and staring at their screens as long as possible to gather all the data they can. Attention leads to data, data leads to ads, ads finally lead to revenue.

Some ads also lead to bizarre and disturbing campaigns…

Many businesses only see our attention as a source of revenue. Businesses without your best interests at heart. Or the best interests of how all this attention-hunting affects society by making us more distracted and manipulated. Businesses with dozens of designers whose sole job is using your brain’s quirks to keep you staring.

You may see why this is a bad thing.

Spend Your Attention Wisely

This is all why I see my attention as something to be used extra carefully. It’s finite and can improve or destroy our lives, depending on how it’s spent.

So many of the same rules for handling our finances now apply to it:

  • Don’t spend it on anything that doesn’t give a good return on investment somewhere else.
  • Save some reserves in case of emergencies.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut your losses.
  • Be careful who you spend it on.
  • Watch how much you spend on junk food and fluff.
  • Unless you lack a soul, don’t invest in Bitcoin.

Most importantly, the less seriously you take managing your attention, the more seriously others will. Others with only their interests in mind.

These are the companies who use any number of tricks to keep you staring at things you’re likely to forget right afterwards:

  • Infinite scrolls of distracting media
  • Auto-playing videos you’re just interesting in enough to watch
  • Encouraging “streaks” to hardwire your brain’s habits
  • Making notifications, even mundane ones, seem urgent and demanding
  • Flashy sounds and effects to create feelings of fake accomplishment
  • Titillating info that ultimately has no real effect on our lives

Ultimately one’s attention will be bled dry, and that’ll drag their entire lives down. Focus falters, important facts are forgotten, our mental strength as a whole is fractured. This leaks into our ability to learn new info, understand the world, make good decisions, plan for our goals, and more.

In other words, it destroys our basic ability to be functional adults. Like money, having a good attention budget can make or break our future.

I’m not saying you need an Excel spreadsheet to calculate your attention budget each month, as Google Docs has no good template for this. But before every attention “purchase,” pause for five seconds and reflect on the investment. Ask yourself if you’re being scammed out of your attention or spending it wisely for yourself.