Brenda Cooper

Attention, Glorious and Critical

We live in an attention economy.  Which really means our attention has scattered.  There is danger here.

Advertisers and news sources spend enormous resources to get our attention.  They’re getting better at it, too.  A lot of the ads I see these days are actually things I’m interested in.  Further, constant connection splits our attention.  I’ve typically got Twitter, four or five web pages, a word document, and two email accounts open.  I’m tracking a wide range of topics I’m interested in:   global economics and politics, writing, technology, speculation about the future, family members, and friends all at once.  I’m sifting the info sphere for information related to my work (technology for a local city), my current fiction story or novel, and my next column or blog.   Good, right?  In some ways. 

I worry that this keeps my attention off the right topics.  As a futurist and a bit of a historian, I feel pretty confident in saying that we are at a crossroads.  The weight of population, waste, and greed has placed us in danger, and yet we also have better tools for talking about solutions and better solutions than ever before.  There are more bright spots than dark ones.  But we need to pay attention.  There are precipices around us, and the quick slide from prosperity to peril that happened in world economics late last year should remain a wake-up call, a reminder of how fast things can change.  So should 9-11.    But it’s so easy to spend time on the latest sale at Nordstrom’s or the latest singing idol. There is no one I know of making short-term money from drawing our attention to world solutions. 

A goal for the rest of this year is pay more attention to where my attention goes, and to spend more time thinking (undistracted) about what how to get more of the people in the world paying attention to the topics we can’t afford to miss.