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A Critique of the "Attention Economy"... maybe attention is not finite

As a marketer, I appreciated Tom Davenport and John Beck's The Attention Economy when it was first published in 2001. Recently Matthew Crawford has been writing about the "Attention Commons." Both are focused on how advertisers battle to capture attention. But maybe attention is something we manage ourselves. 

Here's to the idea that we nurture our attention span in such a way that we can become stronger and more aware of the things we care about. 

Pacific Standard: A Better Way of Talking About Attention Loss, 2016-Feb-23 by Caleb Caldwell

I would like to suggest, instead of an economics of attention, that we think about an ecology of attention. We've already discussed "attention-as-resource," an ecological framing of attention as a natural resource to husband and defend, rather like the rainforest, clean water, or breathable air. But to think of attention as a depletable resource is actually to think of it as a particular kind of private property, one that can be stolen from us, or be dealt out or cruelly withheld at will. It is to align attention almost completely with consumption.... 

I’m not offering a fully formed solution so much as a brief endorsement of a different way of describing and discussing attention: a lexicon that neither worships technology nor romanticizes nature. I want to move past a vocabulary of emancipation vs. enslavement. To think about attention through the language of ecology is to see it as a sound-wave that a bow draws from a violin: in constant flux, not just existing in its surroundings, but actually unable to be abstracted from the constituting conditions of the resin on the bow, the quality of the horsehair, the density of the wood, the moisture in the room’s air. Attention is contingent on shifting attachments between individuals, collectivities, histories, technological and material conditions. To husband our attention requires a commitment to digital and analog life at once because, in so many ways, we are each other’s attention.

And when we recognize this fully, we must feel the responsibility that comes from being sutured together through common acts of attention. Our neighbor, like our smartphone, is now always with us.

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