Attention grabbing is an ethical choice

We were told in school to pay attention to the teacher, to just that one source of information, and that was hard enough. How can we expect to pay attention to all the things that try to grab our attention every minute of every day?

According to Davenport and Beck, authors of ‘The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business’, attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. They say that, “items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act.” Just attending to an item of information and making the decision to act on it comes with cognitive load. But it doesn’t end there. Information overload, fear of missing out, and the constant demand of novelty, the never-ending scrolling, more podcasts and box sets to catch-up on, more messages to send and more emails to read. Content demands distribution.

“Attention is a resource - a person has only so much of it.”, according to Matthew Crawford, and he should know, he’s a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Human attention is a scarce commodity in the knowledge economy, and as knowledge workers are all producers and consumers.

We are all attention grabbers. We try to get people to pay attention to our emails, chat messages and tweets. I’m trying to grab your attention by sending you this email. Grabbing and holding someone’s attention is an ethical choice. One we all make. One that we don’t consider nearly enough. What right does anyone have to my or your attention? Why are you reading this? Why am I sending it? Does my choice to send this email reduce your choices of where to focus your attention?