Without attention, you are publishing to yourself in cyberspace. Your words will lack weight or consequence.
When just one person gives your their attention, the potential energy of your words grow. If they share your words to their networks, the results can grow exponentially.
The more people give you attention, the more your potential impact grows.
Then, the system kicks in.
Attention begets attention. Your content gets attention, the algorithms like that, so it is shown more. Your subscriber base grows. That social proof influences newcomers, who in turn subscribe, grow your social proof, and influence the next round of newcomers. The network grows.
Now you consistently have attention. Now your words have weight.
So now, you publish. Your words are studied, your opinions are scrutinized, your actions are critiqued. Perspectives form. Conversations flow. You have influence, you have impact.
To this point, I’ve described a system without values. It is simply a matter of attention.
This is where things get tricky
The same system can be used both to amplify ideas that change the world and ideas that seek to rip the world apart at the seams.
The same system can be used to court your mindshare for anything.
But here’s the catch.
The game is rigged.
Your brain is a system. It abides by rules that you never chose but rather that evolved over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. At the core, it is still working to keep you alive.
So, you gravitate toward simple information, because it doesn’t require extensive use of your mental faculties. It is not a threat. You give your attention to what is new, novel, loud, and exciting, because it is different…and different could be a threat. Fireworks > Philosophy.
This means that our best bet to get attention is to be controversial, loud, and simplistic. It means that to achieve more eyeballs, you have to water down the message, or abandon it altogether in favor of your new role as court jester.
You want the attention, but the more attention you seek, the more you have to water down the message. Your impact is a diminishing return.
Beyond diluting the idea, you see that the path to attention requires you to be louder and more boastful. It requires you to develop catch phrases, and spend extra time begging for likes, comments, and shares. It requires you to become the entertainment. It requires you to be always on.
So then I ask you, what time left do you have time to think?
By contrast, you can stick to your message. You can build your tribes slowly and organically. You can avoid the trap of a bigger audience. That’s still an option.
The challenge is that the market rewards attention, and its yard stick is often quantity, not quality.
Where you focus your attention matters…
There is only so much attention to go around. It is a scarce resource. So as our entertainment has become escapism, it comes at the expense of issues that matter. I would humbly submit, that in a complex world, the ideas most deserving of our collective attention are often difficult.
- We need more deep thinking and problem-solving, and less pranks and memes.
- We need less of the tranquilizing effects of entertainment, and more of the mind expanding discoveries that inspire us to solve real world problems.
- We need to explore nuance and ask the follow up questions instead of regurgitating simplistic motivational platitudes, or statistics with our context.
- We need to engage in discussions and debates where we see the opposing side as a human being rather than a caricatures, and where the outcome we seek isn’t to win, but to mutually benefit.
- We need to value and remove the stigma from mental health services instead of leaving people to cope by following Instagram fitness model who post motivational quotes.
The paradox of attention is that you need attention to mobilize people and change the world, but the ideas least likely to change the world have the easiest time dominating our attention and getting rewarded by the market.