Attention, Please!

by Chris Horner

They all want it: the ‘digital economy’ runs on it, extracting it, buying and selling our attention. We are solicited to click and scroll in order to satisfy fleeting interests, anticipations of brief pleasures, information to retain or forget. Information: streams of data, images, chat: not knowledge, which is something shaped to a human purpose. They gather it, we lose it, dispersed across platforms and screens through the day and far into the night. The nervous system, bombarded by stimuli, begins to experience the stressful day and night as one long flickering all-consuming series of virtual non events. 

The result is that we find it hard to focus, to concentrate on one thing for longer than about 3 minutes. The repeated dispersal of attention, the iterated jumps and clicks of the wired individual making it harder to gather our dispersed attention in order to do anything like genuine contemplation or the relaxed appreciation of what we view or hear. It’s a familiar complaint: the spaces of leisure that might once have been the beyond the reach of of work, of consumption and gossip, are erased.

I want to suggest a few things here. One is that something has gone strangely awry with the possibilities of leisure, another that there is an existential problem that is connected to the diversion and dispersal of desire. Finally, that there are some important things the subject of all this digital attention needs to do, and that that is more than just disconnecting (although that might be a good idea too). Read more »