I was recently listening to a sermon and I heard the pastor reference something interesting. He talked about “Attention Economics”. At first I thought it was just a catchy phrase, but when I searched online, to my surprise, I found it’s an actual management strategy that companies are employing to bring more attention to their products. The theory claims that attention is a scarce resource, and that people only have so much that can be used in a day. Therefore, companies that are employing the strategy are looking for ways to catch as much of your attention every day as possible. It makes sense from a business perspective to try to get more “attention” to your product. However, from a faith-based and social-based perspective it seems this fight is having unintended consequences.
After looking up a few websites about this attention economy, it seems more and more that the companies are looking to create an addiction economy, and sadly they are more prepared than most people to win that fight. They have access to large databases to determine people’s interests and latest trends. They have smart technology that is helping them provide large amounts of information to people at their fingertips in live time. And with its fast communication and sharing abilities, social media has moved in to take up more of our time. So, the companies have their ducks in a row, but when looking at the average person, you see a fight that most are not sufficiently prepared to fight.
I can’t say that this applies to everyone, but it seems that as the attention economy is becoming more and more mainstream, people’s faith and social contributions are taking a direct hit. I’m sure we have all witnessed, or been guilty of, being around a family member or friend and instead of fellowshipping with them, we sit on our phone and play a game or write a message. I’m sure there are times (and I know I’m guilty) that we spend 1-2 hours a day on our phone reading and monitoring what people have going on, only to realize that we forgot to take some time to read the Bible. And the examples can go on and on about how this attention economy has taken our attention hostage. The question now is how will we be able to take back our attention and allocate it to where it needs to go?
As a start, I think there needs to be a strategy. Just as budgeting helps people keep their finances in order, people should take time to develop an “attention schedule” to focus on making sure they are allocating their attention and time correctly—similar to how we set and monitor our finances to make sure we are allocating our funds correctly. For me, it has helped to get detailed in this manner. When can or can’t we use our smart phones? What is the maximum time that can be allocated to social media, news, or games per day? What important things should we get done in the day before we start allocating our attention to our gadgets? How much time should we spend fellowshipping and just getting out every week? Another idea is to make sure we are setting long term and short term goals, and then regularly monitoring them to make sure we stay on track.
It may sound funny to set these kinds of restrictions on ourselves, but in reality, we are more likely to make bad decisions in our lives and lose the fight for our attention if we don’t set these restrictions on ourselves. As Luke 11:34-35 says “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.” To make sure that our eyes can see clearly, we need to make sure we allocate our attention properly.