3 insights about the future of attention
Scarcity of attention, big tech, friction, flow, and boredom
Our attention is scarce with the abundance of apps, social media and other digital services. What does the future of our attention look like?
In this newsletter, I talk about the nonsense of advertising for your subconscious, the usefulness of friction and the future of attention.
P.S. Can I have your attention, pun intended, for my new short introductory video (90 seconds). I think it is awesome!
Future of Attention
I often find myself on stage giving lectures, but sometimes it's also nice to sit in the audience. For me, it's one of the ways to generate new ideas, meet interesting people, and find inspiration. I have been attending the Brave New World conference in Leiden for several years now, and this year's theme was ‘the future of attention’.
In the rest of this newsletter, I will share three lessons I learned during the conference:
Our attention is scarce;
Boredom is necessary for flow;
Pessimism about the future of attention (but there is hope).
1. Our attention is scarce
Our attention is a precious resource. Professor Stefan van der Stigchel from Utrecht University, who has written several books about attention, shared some insights from the science of attention in his lecture.
One of the most intriguing takeaways is that priming the subconscious with an advertising message is ineffective. The idea dates back to 1957 when James Vicary claimed that he showed moviegoers a flash that said ‘Drink Coca Cola.’
It was so brief that it couldn't have been consciously perceived. Vicary claimed that this subliminal commercial led to increased soft drink sales. However, this claim has been debunked by numerous scientists who attempted to replicate the study but failed to achieve the same results.
In essence, to persuade someone, you genuinely need their conscious attention. And attention remains a fundamentally human experience.
Van der Stighel: 'That is why we value eye contact. You realize that that person is giving you something precious, namely his or her attention.'
2. Boredom is necessary for flow
Technology is progressively eliminating friction from our lives. With Uber, there's no need to negotiate with a driver. Google Maps reduces conversations or disputes about the route. Spotify eliminates the need to learn to play a musical instrument.
In many cases, this reduction in friction is convenient. However, many experts at the conference expressed concerns that friction can also lead to beautiful outcomes:
Negotiating with a taxi driver can kickstart a pleasant conversation.
Reading a map makes you more aware of your place in the environment.
Learning to play a musical instrument can be highly satisfying.*
During his lecture, artist Roel Wouters suggested that boredom is a form of friction, and you need this resistance to enter a state of flow.
I plan to apply this tip more in the near future. When I'm on the brink of boredom, I try to be less tempted to reach for my smartphone for digital distractions.
*) I have no experience with this by the way. Besides a year of singing in a children's choir, I have no musical experience (or talent). 🎶
3. Future of attention
I previously shared this post on LinkedIn regarding the future of attention (NL). There is much reason to be pessimistic, but according to Lex Zard, several lawsuits in European countries offer hope.
According to legal scholar Zard, the current revenue model of big tech, where they demand our privacy and attention, cannot persist—at least not in Europe.
However, in addition to legislation, the future of attention also depends on our own actions. It's not only about how the law protects us but also about how I manage my smartphone and all those tempting apps.
Articles, books, podcasts, videos, documentaries and more on this theme.
1. READ / Are you just looking into buying a new car, bicycle or laptop? There is a good chance that you will suddenly see the product you have in mind much more often. Baader-Meinhof is a fascinating phenomenon.
2. READ / Cal Newport wrote the book Digital Minimalism in 2019. His message: don't embrace all digital services, but choose carefully.
3. WATCH / Ritzo ten Kate took more than 500 close-up street portraits of people the moment I woke them up from their smartphones. I think the Caught in the App project is beautiful and confrontational.
🙏 Thank you for reading
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