In this episode, we’re going to be exploring the Attention Economy. This topic is timely because we are living in it. We’ll look at the high-level aspects of it and then bring it down to what it looks like in your day-to-day life.
At first when people hear the term “economics” they might think it refers to the study of money. But in fact economics is really the study of people. It looks at what drives human behavior – decisions and reactions that humans, us people, take when facing difficulties or opportunities. Economics also looks to historical trends, today’s headlines, and predications in both the short and long term
And there are a lot of variables that happen when you are looking at the study of human behavior. It includes disruptions, innovations, and even evolution of thought.
But let’s take this from the macro nerdy sounding things to the micro level – that’s the Us level. Let’s start with your immediate environment. Look around and see what are the things, if we’re focusing on economics of attention, that consume the most of your attention right now. And I don’t mean the humans in your life – we’ll have future episodes for that.
I mean the active attention getters (or takers) in your life. Let’s start with devices. If you’re sitting down while listening to this, how many devices (of any type) are within view? It can be a computer, laptop, TVs, monitors – and of course, your phone. Don’t forget anything you might be wearing. Do you get messages that physically buzz your body?
All of this contributes to the behaviors of our attention investments. And we’re going to talk a lot in these episodes about our relationship with time, money, people, words – all sorts of things that make up those micro decisions that lead to macro impact.
And we will also explore how do you organize your time and attention (or attempt to). For some, it can be organizational principles. It can be tactics, habits, physical to-do lists, or simply your current aspirations for more. All of those things go into how are you trying to manage the economics of your attention.
Let’s take a step out and think first around the elements in the larger landscape that are trying to get our attention. You just reflected on all of the things that you chose to have in your environment to enable and occupy your attention.
And the world is doing that as well. Attention is a commodity – and a very profitable one. Businesses invest a lot of money in technology, marketing, and psychology to capture your attention. Share of your mind gets them a better shot at share of your wallet.
Let me give you an example. Whatever device you engage with most frequently likely has settings and notification that, unless you change them, are there to knock on the door of your brain. For me, it’s those red dots on my phone that are constantly saying “hey, pay attention to this! And this! Here’s an email, a text, and app – look, a missed call. That always freaks me out. I’m like, who just called me?
And that’s not even taking into account chat channels from work or school, family and friends – plus all those social channels that are there to entertain the brain.
Ask yourself, when you see an attention getter – what does your brain do? Does it immediately get itchy and want to respond, delete, and clear the noise? Do you pick up the phone to check the time or weather and then 17 minutes later you’re lost in an app or still trying to clear the red dots? Hey, some of us do, some of us don’t. Doesn’t bother my teenage son at all but for me, it is a daily practice to not be distracted by them.
And by the way, that’s by design. Distraction is the objective. When you think about all of the distractions during our day, we often internalize it and think, ah, I just wish I could be more focused or disciplined. I wish I wasn’t always distracted. But in fact, what your brain is doing is what it is wired to be doing. It’s going to work. It’s showing up.
I’ll tell you a story. I have a rescue dog. And she is always scanning the windows to see what’s happening in the great outside. She’s looking to see if there is a car going by, another dog in the area, someone coming home to the house, or if we’ll get a visit from the ever-present Amazon delivery person again today. That’s her job. She’s on the lookout for what’s happening.
And so is your brain. It’s always scanning the horizon because that is what it is built to do. And it’s been doing for always. It’s there to get your attention and say, here are all the things that are offering alerts. What should we do about them?
There are so many companies and marketers who spent a lot of time and money to be on that horizon. This ties to the study of cognitive psychology – the science behind our mental processes like attention, language, memory, perception, problem solving and just daily thinking. So when I see those little red dots or whatever other distractions are our my mental window today, I know that my brain is employing it’s cognitive abilities to assess the landscape and let me know.
The challenge in this noisy, busy world is that there are so so many things vying for our attention –from a digital perspective, an environmental perspective, and of course a human perspective. So within that, we need to be thinking about how are working within the attention environment or making it work for us (or against us)?
with that, let’s turn that to the attention landscape. In addition to the little elements, how are we organizing all of this digital deluge. How many items are on your physical or tech background? Can you quickly that piece of paper on an actual desk or on an electronic one? How many browser windows do you have open? Do you ever open a browser window to remind yourself to do something later? I definitely do.
How many messages are sitting in a draft folder – meaning I’ve started this and I’ll send it later? Or have you ever actually thoughts, why has no one responded only to find that email you so carefully crafted is still sitting in your draft folder? Those are just some of the different things we are trying to manage that makeup our own attention ecosystem.
And it can be other pieces like alarms on your phone, to-do lists, mail and papers stacked in a corner. Have you ever sent emails, texts, or voicemails to yourself to remind your future self about something? Again that is all your brain at work, trying to keep pace with the hamster wheel of attention economy.
The interactions of all these channels and all these options are part of our cognitive psychology. The second part of that is our cognitive capacity and a lot of scientists call this simply the “technology brain drain. ” This is going to be the diminishing law of return of your productive output and decision making.
By the end of the day – or for a lot of us even by the middle of the day – we are experiencing reduced mental attention. Because we’ve been on all day and we’re trying so hard to keep up with all-the-things.
There is a study that said the average person interacted with their phone 85 times a day. Just their phone. Just their phone, one device – 85 times a day. That included when they first woke up, right before they went to bed and even, in some cases, when they woke up in the middle of the night. Is that you? That study, by the way, was done before Covid. So it’s very possible that there has been an increase in the amount of time we are touching technology.
So ask yourself if that’s what your brain is doing. And it’s okay if it is. Just understanding how you navigate the attention economy will help as you aim to do fewer things better. That’s why we’re here.
Within this landscape and study of our human behavior, it’s first important to understand what boosts us and what drains us. So as we explore the steps to take over these next episodes about how to maximize our time or tame our tech, it first starts with this personal understanding.
We’ll spend more time looking at the attention economy and our role in it. And all of these insights will become signals to you. Not everything I’ve mentioned applies to you – and that’s totally fine. Because you are the only expert on You.
What’s it’s going to do, though, is help you pay attention to the things that make you sit up a little bit and take notice. Moments where you’re like, oooh, I think I do that. Where do you recognize yourself in the information? That’s important.
These are all keys in the journey that we will use to help unlock our brains.
Thanks for listening about the attention economy.
I’m eager to hear where you invest and what returns you receive as a result.
Take good care.