#123 A pause from poetry to talk about economy attention applied to all of us

Lídia de Oliveira
3 min readJun 13

Research from a wide range of disciplines suggests that humans have limited cognitive resources that can be used at any given time, when resources are allocated to one task the resources available to other tasks will be limited, neurologically speaking. Given that attention is a cognitive process that involves the selective concentration of resources on a particular item of information to the exclusion of other perceptible information, attention can be thought of in terms of a limited processing resource.

The notion of attention as a limited and increasingly desired resource is at the heart of what some authors have called the attention economy (Frank, 1998; Davenport and Beck, 1998). (…) there seems to be no doubt that what everyone wants most, and what is always felt to be in short supply, is attention.

This notion — and the related conceptualisations such as of ‘experience design’, the competition for ‘eyeballs’, ‘click-throughs’ and so on — animates contemporary digital media production, advertising and the online, multitasking, near-pervasive media milieu in which they develop. The attention economy rests on the idea that attention is a scarce resource to compete for, and competing harshly. In this digital economy, trade is increasingly built around information rather than physical commodities. However, information isn’t scarce; rather, the limiting factor is human attention, and it will always be. more and more. Instead of exchanging money, social media and other “free” apps fight for user attention to survive, which often includes using any means necessary to capture user attention and data for ad revenue.

Meanwhile, we’re still living in an age of attention pulling and grabbing; our individual responsibility is to set terms of engagement with social media, treating it not as something designed to benefit us, but rather as something whose true goals we know to be disrupting daily life and nudging towards a corporation’s profits. As much as you can, turn off non-human notifications for once, decide when to frequent apps on your terms, and ask apps not to track you for their ads.

If you need to, delete TikTok once more and forever. Think of something you can do on your homework breaks other than checking your phone.

It’s not you, it’s your phone. It’s not entirely your lack of self-control, it’s also systems that are designed to keep you coming back based on algorithms that are tracking your subconscious behavior.

Where is this all leading to?

Are we losing our ability to focus attention on a butterfly? in a sunset? on a chocolate cake? without wanting to tell anyone that we did it on social networks and being automatically redirected to a travel website (because of the sunset) or promotions in a supermarket (because of the cake).

If attention was a handful of sand…or a single bag of coins for the whole day…how are you spending yours?

Lídia de Oliveira

Poet, family doctor and fitness instructor. Seeker of meaning, passion and creativity. Do you dare bringing poetry back with me?