Your attention isn't yours

Meetings distracts our attention, making it hard to achieve purposeful work. Advertising grabs our attention, convincing us to buy things. Economists and information management theorists pontificate on attention, attempting to understand how we use this limited resource.

A World Economic Forum study says that every day we send 500 million tweets, 294 billion emails, and 65 billion WhatsApp messages. “By 2025, it’s estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be created each day globally – that’s the equivalent of 212,765,957 DVDs per day!” There is too much data, too much content, for anyone to even make sense of, much less make use of. What should we pay attention to?

Trite advice tells us to ‘focus on the present’ or ‘pay attention to what matters’, but in the constant stream of things coming our way that do in fact need our attention, the trick is not to give it over to one thing but to be able to make conscious, informed choices to shift it to where it is needed for that moment.

But what if our attention isn’t really ours. What if attention is only the result of having something to pay attention to. What if, without things to distract us from our work and convince us to buy things we have no attention. So perhaps the most important skill we can learn, then, is that of where and how to place that attention in response to all those things and move on as the next new thing asks for attention without becoming overwhelmed.