Random, somewhat scatered thoughts on attention.

Attention is becoming an increasingly valuable asset. The information overload is getting worse. Companies should be happy if people pay any attention to something their offering for free. And for that, many are willing to pay hefty sums. As the saying goes, if you are not paying for something, you are being sold. Attention and time is becoming a kind of a meta-commodity.

Companies acquire rivals just because they are stealing their customers time and attention. Not necessarily because they have a viable business model or a sensible product, but because they one day might. A company with numerous users but not their attention, it cannot advertise directly. The view counts don’t accumulate. In that case, indirect attention grasp via selling data to advertisers is still possible.

The possible disturbances, the attempts to grasp your attention, are ever increasing. Instant messaging and push notifications are an obvious enemy, but so is the unconscious fear of missing out. There arises a need to check the news and feeds, no matter how asynchronously. We also have an internal feed of thoughts and ideas that is difficult, if not impossible, to stop.

I’m not sure which kind of disregard is more infuriating. The one which is caused by your inability to ignore external disturbances, or the ones you concoct up in your own head?

Feeding the internal loop of thought blocks or delays external inputs at possibly crucial times. When obsessed and concentrated on something, I’ve noticed I often finish processing external inputs just too many a moment late. And the situation has already moved on. There’s a queue or a buffer of sorts. When it gets too stacked, the resulting output can get outdated and useless.

When distributing attention, I’d say it’s best to favour direct connection before indirect. Communicating with people tends to be much more mentally cumbersome, as it needs to be synchronous. Asynchronous conversation has it’s advantages, but they often leave one with an unfinished mental thread. A gut feeling that something requires attention or action, consuming the limited working memory.

Thinking and listening seem to get crushed by overzealous attention deficit or lack of patience. Almost only when one is granted a slot for a speech, is one entitled to keep silent pauses. Without this privilege, one often needs to fill their speak with umms, you-knows or just plain bs.

Multitasking is possible in some instances, but detrimental in general. I can enjoy a jog while listening to something, or go for a walking meeting. Most importantly, multitasking duties should contain only one cognitive exercise at a time. We kind-of multitask naturally, but those tasks are autonomous and don’t require thought. Thoughts involving the slow thinking part of the brain, are best processed one at a time.

But we shouldn’t become some kind of single-purpose-at-a-time automatons. The one thing a human brain is still the best, at is in making creative connections and finding patterns. Perhaps sometimes obsessing about one single thing will connect two seemingly irrelevant and disconnected ideas.

Most of this boils down to a mind-control of your own. Just as one can push themselves to exercise, one can force themselves to concentrate. It is more subtle. There is no visible effect and it is much harder to measure, and impossible to measure as accurately. One needs a mantra or some routine that keeps reminding you not to give in to that feed of nonsense or irrelevancies. Just as willpower is consumed by tough choices, I believe it’s fortified by easier and habitual ones.

There’s a bunch of tools that help mitigate the effects of the external feed of information. Some of these tools are software, and things like nature or total disconnection. The internal feed is obviously harder to pause. Mediation is one of the more obvious tools, as are some natural and unnatural substances. One should not strive to stop all thinking, but be aware of their train of thought. It becomes important to space out every once in a while.

Most of the stuff that happens is out of our realm of influence anyway, so it is useless to sulk about it. The issues that we have a say in, we might not have to react to them immediately, let alone obsess about them. Writing them down, typing them up, using the so called external memory, helps with the constant worry.

I find myself gravitating back to print media, and disconnected tools. Whatever the offline publication, it has a selected and finite amount of pages to read, and is thus somewhat more easy to handle and grasp. I annot switch to anything topical or do the goddamn tab browsing.

Other non-tech and analog stuff intrigue me more and more. Not when the digital is clearly superior, but when the analog is sufficient and allows for a longer attention span. I’m burdened by some sort of a tech fatigue.


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