Regaining the Control of Attention

The information revolution has taken us into a post-industrial condition.   It thrives on a scarce commodity.  Every major player in this business is competing for it.  Indeed, our attention has become the most valuable commodity of the post-industrial world. It has given birth to what has been called attention economy.   We are living a perpetual distraction online.  Our digital condition seems to be dictating every aspect of our life. Every company on the internet is struggling for our attention. They slip in ads or pop up informatials that might interest us.  They have engineered technology to keep us hooked online. This is not in our best interest but is directed to increase the ad space and volume of those who wish to sell their products to us. This digital world that has come onto our palms was chiefly dominated by three companies:  Google, Apple, and Facebook. Their monopoly is today challenged by Chinese companies that have also  taken over the significant  measure of our attention space.

The amount of time we spent on  social network platforms like Facebook, Instagram is monitored. They also keep an eye on our click-through rate and encourage us to participate in their platforms so that they have increased control over us. Our attention is a powerful resource and to hold it for a desired time, these companies have adopted aggressive techniques. Due to the curbs of the lock-down imposed on us on account of the global pandemic, we have become easy victims to the baits that they have placed to grab our attention. We easily fall prey to the auto-played videos on  Facebook as we as scroll through everything that appears to be new information.  There is no moral fibber in the attention industry. They use forceful tactics that tap us into our narcissistic voyeuristic and exhibitionist self-indulgences.  Today attention economy benefits both commercial as well as political establishment.   This is why it is urgent that we come to understand what it is doing to us individually as well as a society and find ways to address it.

It is said that on an average, we inadvertably  check our mobiles  about 80 times a day.  This means we are constantly distracted and our focus on our work has become weakened.  Some of us celebrate it as multitasking and indulge in it dangerously even while driving.  The apps that we use from inboxes to whatapps  are constantly updating  themselves with new information. This induces a fear of missing out or falling behind the trending topic.  As a result, our phones and other devices become tools of consumption. We turn to them to consume as we keep checking it all the time. unfortunately, we prefer to passively consume rather than communicate through our phone.   Our enslavement to  the world of consumerism has reached its climax with the invention of the smart phone.   It has brought unease in our life and we try to escape it through a cycle of what may be a hankering for attention through the medium of the platforms that these companies on the internet offer us.  This is visible in a mindless engagement of social media scrolling.  The number  of likes boosts us but trolls in the same platforms take away the joy out of our life.

But all is not gloom and doom for us. We can still gain digital control. Knowing how much time we spent on  social media platforms is the first powerful step  to disentangle us from their enslavements.  The assessment of digital time spent by us is very important. If we decide to lessen our engagement on these platforms, we do not hand over the control to the algorithms of those platforms that closely monitor the time that we spend on those platforms. Hence, tracking of the time that we spend is certainly a wake-up call that we all need to consider  in the wake of  the manner in which the competition to grab our attention thickens on the web.  The tracking our time can bring intentional control over our digital lives. Although our digital service providers want us to stay glued to our smartphones, we then are enabled to stay accountable to us and open space for other qualitatively creative works. When we are mindful of our attention, we are enabled to quits some apps that we unproductively use, put up add blockers, manage notification settings, consider anti-distraction apps,  etc.

We need to master what is called digital minimalism to win our crusade against the exploitation of our attentions. Today we can also hear of digital detox providers.  Digital minimalism is a way of life that seeks to strive to keep oneself free from the digital clutter and its noise.  This means we have to live intentionally with tech. We cannot allow it to be our master. This is not what one does once and is done with. It is a constant process and continuous practice. This requires the organization of our digital space as well as motivation to protect once attention from being abused by companies that trade on it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao