The Value of Attention

15 May 2017 Jered Higgins

“We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone,” Shakespeare.

I’m not going to say time is the most valuable thing or talk about how important it is to everyone. We value our time and value the time of others. Everyone has feelings about “time well spent.” Everyone has their own experience with it. If we can ascertain that everyone values time we can assume that having control of one’s use of time is equally valuable. Even still, time is taken away from people for disobedience, it is used as punishment in the judicial system, it is used to determine compensation in employment, it is used to delegate responsibility and commitment in many everyday scenarios, and time is used as a measurement of profit.

Then what is the predominant source of control of one’s time?

The logical answer is that we decide what time we control and what time we let be controlled by outside forces. However, considering the subliminal influence of these outside forces how much control do we really have?

Our attention is hijacked to exploit our use of time. Attention is what persuades people to dedicate more time to something whether they prefer it or not. The more attentive and focused on something, the more likely people are to be persuaded. Social network notifications and personalized content, interstital advertisements and popups, targeted news feeds on almost every popular app, “trusted authority” for brands and products, advertisements designed to trigger emotional and logical responses – humor, sexual appeal, fear, and anxiety. Advertisement is not all with malicious intent, but the intent in all advertisement is persuasion. People are constantly persuaded to focus their attention on something, most often something they are not self-prioritizing in regards to the use of their time.

Okay, so all advertisers are bad and wasting our time?

No. Saying all advertisers are bad is like saying all products are bad for you. That’s just not true. I’m not going to give examples of good advertisers because a product shoutout would be a little too ironic here. Also, people have different perceptions of what is inherently good for them and what is not good for them. Not all advertisements are technically a waste of time either, as people also have different perceptions of what is considered a good use of their own time.

Then what is the problem?

The problem is how often our attention is being manipulated. Our attention is focused on a controversial soda commercial instead of the cause it feigns to support. Our attention is focused on stories that outrage us to post comments on social media but not to express our outrage in public. Our attention is focused on sensationalism and phenomena. Our attention is manipulated to keep us acquiescent to existing conditions. People may be more aware of the state of things by having access to more information than ever before, but we lose our sense and feeling for the reality of the human condition. Control of attention is the control of time, and ultimately, it is a tool for others to control the contribution of people in society.

What is the solution?

You tell me. Better yet, show me…