Attention is the new gold

We have long been used to chasing a multitude of information: from the most useless to the most interesting. We’re subscribed to hundreds of Youtube channels that continuously suggest new contents, and as soon as we finish watching a video we’re suggested another one that immediately stimulates our curiosity: sometimes it’s something we’ve been looking for for a long time, other times, it’s just curiosity, dictated by the title or the thumbnail. In other cases, we even spend time watching a video looking for information that unfortunately will never come. Besides, over the years, videos have become longer and longer, so much that Youtube looks like it has replaced television.

But we’re not stopping here, because we also read the posts of our favorite pages and friends we have on Facebook, as well as actively participate with reactions and comments. Same thing on Instagram, where we get captured by the photos posted by our friends and the rest of the world, without excluding when we put our own. Then there’s Twitter, Pinterest, etc… In short, tons of socials with a myriad of content, which seems increasingly difficult to keep up with, unless you spend the whole day there, but it probably wouldn’t even be enough.

In addition to all this, we must not forget that the internet is also something else, such as blogs and forums to follow; streaming movies and music; games, and all that remains of this incredible universe of the internet.

Moreover, we can’t forget all those activities we do offline, both on PC as the use of the most disparate applications according to our needs, but also everything that is part of everyday life: from reading a book, going to the gym, going out, etc… Not to mention all those actions that we do routinely such as eating, taking care of ourselves, sleeping, etc… And also the work that theoretically keeps us busy most of the time.

In all this ever-increasing breadth of interests, how could we keep up with everything we follow? Some might answer that we should get rid of most of the useless things, but if what is important and really interests us grows exponentially, how could we do that?

Artificial intelligence is both helping us and trapping us. So, if on the one hand, the A.I. choose for us among the vastness of information present, from which it would be impossible to make a sorting without spending our entire life; on the other hand, A.I. continuously stimulates our curiosity, trapping our attention, exactly as our brain does with the digressions of thoughts. We start with an image and then we move on to something totally different since the previous thought led us there without apparent motivation.

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Youtube is a clear example of this process: we watch a video and among the suggested videos we immediately see other potential videos that could attract us. And it’s easy for it to happen, because everything is now on the internet, whether it’s stupid or interesting, it’s easy to get caught. And it’s precisely the Youtube’s game that forces us to keep our attention on it to help display more and more advertising, but to what extent can the need for attention grow? Either time is taken away from other parts or we give up following what attracts us. The same thing happens with Amazon with suggested purchases, with Spotify for songs and even a little with Netflix.

Please note that this concept does not necessarily apply only to Youtube or to social media in general, because if we consider that we are passionate about books and we see on the internet a myriad of titles that we are interested in that in a normal bookshop we would never have seen, curiosity would encourage us to read as much as possible. But how could we do that? Either you increase your reading skills, or you give up most of your interests. Or again you would have to get time from other activities.

It’s almost like living in Tranquility Lane, an adventure in the Fallout 4 game where the protagonist ends up in a virtual world where everything seems happy, but soon it turns out worse than the post-nuclear reality from which he came. And that place just serves to keep him trapped in that fake reality.

So the question is this: will society reorganize itself in order to give more space to interests, or will it continue in this way and adopt other ways of keeping up with everything? The attention-seeking companies will also have to find an answer. Will we become better at filtering out what interests us and/or understanding things faster and faster? Or will technology help us and we will learn new things like in The Matrix, loading a simple program in the brain that will give us the knowledge of that particular subject in a few seconds? Difficult to give a single answer.

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It has to be said, however, that not always stolen attention leads to positive results. If a company captures attention for advertising purposes and leads us to read new books, see new lectures, take new courses, learn about new films or songs, it has a positive consequence for us. When stolen attention leads to nothing, like a sort of hypnosis, without contributing to added value, such effects can be disruptive.

If we think about TikTok, the most trendy social media of the moment, we immediately understand the difference with its competitors. If the importance, for the previous ones, was based on content to attract people, so stealing attention is not an end in itself; with the latter, everything is exclusively oriented to capture attention without giving importance to any content. For this reason, TikTok videos are often short, based on improvised dubbing, gags, and dances; whose only purpose is to keep us on the platform.

Some might compare it to a drug, whose availability is unlimited and free, easily usable, and legally available even if you are not of legal age yet.

Moreover, unlike the other socials, on TikTok registration is not necessary, so everyone can have access to it, even if they are not convinced to be part of it, but no less subjected to involvement. Its audience is also very young (between 13 and 16 years old), an age group much more vulnerable to being captured by its videos that also require a low level of cognitive effort to understand, contributing to the state of passivity of the brain.

In a not too distant future, however, the information provided by gyroscopes, accelerometers, cameras, and phone gestures could also be integrated to better optimize the application’s Artificial Intelligence algorithm, in order to be able to capture even more the attention when it tends to fail.

But what can we do today?

First of all, we should try to be more aware of what we are doing. We should try to separate what is only entertaining content from what is really useful, in order to focus more on what is a priority for us, keeping the less important only if we have time; or at least reduce contents according to the time available to us. If it is useful, we may also decide to give strict time limits on how much content to follow during the week. This also applies, of course, to all other activities which are not social. So the first useful move to save time is to optimize it.

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Another element that can help us save time is certainly automation. How many processes can we automate nowadays so that we have time to do something else? Whether it is programming the washing machine, making a transfer from a PC instead of directly at our bank, or programming a Facebook post, there are more and more activities that can work without our direct intervention or that can be done semi-automatically, namely with a minimal contribution by us.

Let us not forget, however, that many of the things we follow are really useless and result only from mere curiosity. How many useless videos we could avoid watching if we knew in advance that they are clickbaits, or that they do not enrich us in the slightest? As well as other numerous activities that just make us waste time. We must become good at saying no to what gets us nowhere. It is therefore important to cut out the superfluous.

Another aspect, certainly interesting to save time, is to delegate activities. If we don’t have time to buy something we could order it, if we don’t have time to do a job we could commission it, perhaps getting an even better result.

However, there are also some activities that we can do at the same time (multitasking) without sacrificing too much attention, such as listening to music while working out, or reading an ebook while we are in the waiting room, etc…

Finally, as the last strategy, we could consider several activities to be condensed into a single one that incorporates most of them. For example, if we were to read many books that specifically talk about different aspects of the same subject, it would be better to look for a book that perhaps addresses all the most important aspects in a single volume. We will sacrifice many details at the beginning, but we will have a global idea of the subject. So that later on, if we have more time, we can possibly go deeper. And all this can be applied to different aspects of the daily routine, such as doing just one dishwasher in the evening instead of twice a day.

We don’t know how things will evolve, so for now we can only use what we know and make the best use of it.