The Invisible War: Technologies Fight for the 21st Centuries most Valuable Commodity — Your Attention
How much of your attention is actually focused on the things you want to do or think about each day?
I’m sure you answer, like mine, is a vast percentage of your time but think harder. Your attention is a commodity which has been monetised perhaps more effectively than any product in history. Brands compete for your attention at every single turn and employ an armada of techniques in order to hijack it.
Your attention means money. The duration which it is focused on the things marketers and brands want you to see or use the more money they are able to acquire for your attention. Your attention spins the wheels of commerce for every second you witness their message and when you stop or become distracted their income from you stops immediately. Ensuring consumption for the longest duration possible is the aim of the game, prolonging engagement is the mission.
Think about the implications of that for a moment.
Your time and attention is now the commodity sold by the biggest tech companies in the world. In many ways they are the only commodities sold by google and Facebook. They provide a backdoors into our consciousness enabling unscrupulous manipulators to steal our time. They design campaigns which psychologically hook us draw us in.
Brands employ psychological warfare in order to achieve this. They tailor messages to tug at our heart strings, they programme contagiousness into products where we are compelled to continue using them and they send notifications to distract us from what we are focussed on.
What are the ethics behind this? Who has oversight on these matters and ensures the lives of everybody isn’t detrimentally effected? In short, nobody. It is viewed as a personal choice to participate.
I often spend time thinking about the productivity and progress which has been stolen from humanity by those people forcing a message or service down people’s throats. We think we all have free will but the reality is we are manipulated ubiquitously. Every advert is an attempt to inspire a reaction, every campaign is an effort to disrupt our day and interrupt our attention while attempting to compel us to take specific actions.
That is what advertisements are, an agent of distraction employed to divert our attention.
Yet we are never rewarded for sacrificing our productivity. Not once have I received a rebate from google or facebook for the attention they have sapped for the previous year. These companies thrive by enslaving humanity to the screen but offer no opportunity for recourse. Your reward is exploitation and the stripping back of your privacy revealing ever more personal data that they can exploit.
We assume this is part of the process, something we have to accept in order to use their services, so we accept it. Our attention is the gas which fuels the fire and because of this we participate willingly in order for our quality of services to remain and to enable these companies to bring us the next great ‘thing’
Therein lays our opportunity, because we are the fuel to the fire and not the material which burns we hold all the cards. We assume these companies will be around forever because they have a billion users but the reality is if we stop believing they exist and stop using their service they cease to exist. We permit their existence through participation, the second we stop they fail. If these companies stop adding logs the fire they wither and die, but we can also choose to stop throwing petrol on the fire encouraging them to grow.
When you view the transaction through this prism of reality you become cognisant of your power and influence. At a time where fake news dominates our news feeds, where advertisements proliferate our messaging inboxes and our attention is the world’s most valuable commodity it is us who chooses to participate or not. We keep the wheel spinning or step off and watch it slow.
We overestimate the power of technology while simultaneously underestimating our own power to influence developments.
In order to control our destiny we must relentlessly defend our attention. What we focus on must be defended from distraction ruthlessly otherwise we become insentient. If we are unable to escape the commoditisation of our attention we merely become part of the matrix lining the companies of big business.
The most valuable skill of the 21st century is practised ignorance. An ability to escape the tentacles of technology which utilises seduction and reward to steal our attention is the most important skill we can ever cultivate.
Life is for living, not for Facebook or Google to steal our time with ever more appealing advertisements while lining their pockets at our expense.
It’s time to realise it.