Seeking Solutions for a Sustainable Attention Ecology

Attention as Ecology NOT Economy.

America. We love our money. We love it as much or more than God – at times it is not clear that it is not our god after all. There is very little on this earth that has the power to steal from us our affection – for money. Everything we see and do is hard wired now to the language and notions of money. Money buys you anything you need. Absence of it brings about plague, pestilence, death – or worse – boredom and solitude. For what could be worse than going broke, except to be broke and alone?

Enter, the Dame – the other. She is money, she is more than money, she is everything every living child on Earth has ever wanted and more.  She is attention and through her even money can be acquired.

Of course these are just flowery words describing high level concepts.  Hyperbole and anthropomorphism are used to enhance, gather, and ultimately to monetize or commodify that which you are willingly letting go forth from yourself right now – attention.

What is attention?  It is the currency of terrorists and CEO’s.  It is the backbone of any political endeavor.  It is our understanding of the phenomenon of self awareness – some would say the very focal point of consciousness itself. Linguistically, we are aware of its value, applied or inherent.  We grow up hearing “Pay Attention!” and finding we have “Attention Deficits” or just by having our attention stolen or captured or politely asked for in “May I have your Attention, Please?” It is because we value it so that we talk of it in terms of money – it has been said that we are living in an Attention Economy.

Attention economy

Attention economics is an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity, and applies economic theory to solve various information management problems.


But can anyone really say where it comes from? Can anyone say how deep is the source? 

We are miners of attention now.  We deal with it in the customary way – the same way we deal with fossil fuels, for example, or gold. We scan large tracts of brain and fields of vision to extract attention with maximum return. And this has been normal for so long that everyone has gotten used to the idea that it is all ok. After all – attention running out? Only at death does our attention dry up and even then there are still some who say it has an afterlife.

Absurd to think that something so inexorably tied to consciousness could ever reach its end before consciousness itself expires, right?

Sustainable Media Ecosystems and Responsible Attention Gathering.

It is little wonder that our children are increasingly being diagnosed with disorders involving attention and concept of self.  As many as one is seventy boys is expected to be somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. Every day, more an more cases emerge of ADD in adults and children alike. 

The time to recognize this new “inconvenient” truth is now. Attention is not a product to be traded in. It is not just a traditional scarce natural resource.  Attention is the very sphere of our existence. It is the world and we are polluting it through our assumption that it, as a resource can never expire, never fail to produce on command. That kind of mechanization of attention cannot be sustained.

It is up to those of us that recognize these three truths to make a difference in the future of information, the future of technology, the future of attention management – perhaps even to make a difference in the future of human consciousness as we know it:

1. As technological advancement sweeps the globe, so too do floods of information fragment attention

2. As many as 1 in 70 boys and 1 in 110 girls may expect to have neurological difficulty in managing attention and attention fragmentation – a huge influx about to hit the adult population.

3. There is a choice involved in perpetuating attention gathering practices that treat attention as an infinite resource rather than a delicate ecosystem requiring intentional sustainable strategies in all facets of all mediums.

SPAM is only the beginning.

For as long as there has been a media landscape, there has been pollution. For as long as the medium has been the message, the choices made have defined the future.  There are no easy solutions to creating a world of Responsible Attention Gathering Practices.  What better realm for these answers to emerge than from the very tools that have propitiated their ill effects?  It is time to put the vast resources and massive energy afforded by social, digital media to work such that the sustainability of our fragile ecosystem might endure.

Our attention is the world in which we live – and as much as we are all finite as individuals, our ability to give attention out only extends to the length of our time here on Earth. To whom or what it is paid, then, should remain in the power of that individual as much as is humanly possible – and our efforts to perpetuate the over-mining of attention in the name of the so-called Attention Economy should be seen as no less a threat to human existence than the pollution of the Earth itself.

Get Involved.


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