4 minutes

2024: Emphasize Conscious Attention

As the year 2022 transitioned into 2023, one of the most significant developments was the emergence of Chat GPT online. Consequently, initial forms of artificial intelligence reached widespread household adoption. While intended to assist in synthesizing the overwhelming volume of information exceeding our capacity to absorb, these technologies inadvertently generated vast quantities of new content. This marked a new phase in the battle for our attention.

In 1971, Nobel Prize-winning economist, computer scientist, sociologist, and psychologist Herbert Simon first articulated the intuitive link between the ever-increasing volume of information and the limited resource of our attention. He concluded that we need skills for effectively allocating our attention among various information sources. His ideas were further developed into the concept of the ATTENTION ECONOMICS. A key contributor to this concept, M. H. Goldhaber, observed that due to the scarcity of attention relative to available information, we witness its monetization – challenging the role of money and becoming a currency in itself.

Consequently, our attention has become the subject of fierce competition. Thousands of tech companies, media outlets, advertisers, and even individual content creators (like vloggers or bloggers) vie for our attention, driving their ad-based business models. More attention translates to more ad views, increasing advertising revenue. Hence, various platforms are designed to maximize user engagement.

Increasing research indicates that this practice often comes at the expense of the quality of time spent – leading us to consume more shallow, tabloid-like content. In pursuit of clicks and likes, content often becomes more sensational and simplistic, focusing on topics that our most primitive brain parts – the ‘reptilian brain’ – are particularly sensitive to, such as various fears. This type of information easily evokes emotional responses, creating a kind of addiction mechanism, a need to experience certain stimuli.

The dark side of the attention economy is evident. Studies show – as excellently detailed in J.Hari’s book “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention” – that excessive competition for attention leads to several negative effects. It diminishes our ability to concentrate, limits creativity, reduces the capacity for certain emotions and feelings, disrupts interpersonal relationships, and increasingly contributes to widespread mental health issues. People are bombarded with stimuli exceeding their ability to manage and protect themselves, leading to overload and stress. The ability to deeply focus, crucial for our overall well-being, is notably diminishing.

To wrap up this part: we currently function in a SYSTEM where our attention generates enormous profits for large corporations, while we receive in return “the illusion of being up-to-date” and an increasingly fragmented mind and growing addiction. This hardly seems like a fair or healthy arrangement. Therefore, with the new year, it’s worth considering creating a more equitable system. How can we achieve this? Starting at the individual level is best. Regaining partial control over our use of technological devices is essential. We must define boundaries for the time spent on electronic devices and social media, delete certain services, subscriptions, and apps, and regularly practice “digital detox” – for instance, one day a week. Embracing mindfulness and meditation can also be beneficial, training the brain for better focus and resistance to distractions.

At the societal level, it’s crucial to educate the public about the impact of technology on our attention and health. Promoting healthy digital habits, both in schools and at a societal level, is vital. Following this, promoting a lifestyle and work environment conducive to maintaining concentration and focus is the best use of public funds for mental health prevention.

Of course, new solutions are also needed in relation to those competing for our attention. Enforceable legal regulations are required to limit the use of technology for surveillance, profiling, and addiction.

Let 2024 be a year of more consciously directing our attention. Let us turn it more towards what strengthens us and away from what weakens us. In a world of artificial intelligence, the future of our civilization will depend on how well we care for our own HUMAN INTELLIGENCE AND CREATIVITY.


Published (in Polish): Parkiet, 02.01.2024

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *