The Age of Attention

A couple of days ago, I logged into my Facebook account to discover a seemingly never-ending stream of garbage. Of course, this isn’t new to anyone that has used Facebook in the last couple of years. It’s quickly turning into the new MySpace from years ago; scrambling to continuously keep our attention. And yet, this is exactly what is driving me away from social media sites like Facebook. Everything has to be interesting and attention-grabbing; after all, they depend on you and what you click on.

The problem with this attention-grabbing business model is that it promotes extremism. It changes how we view society and even our own personal lives. Mark Manson, a popular author, gave some clear examples of this in a recent article of his.

  1. Everyone seems like they are getting married, having kids, or having amazing trips around the world, because we are exposed to these events in disproportionate numbers. “It’s not that everyone is having amazing life experiences all the time, it’s that we’re always shown people’s amazing life experiences all the time. As a result, many of us begin to feel a constant gnaw of somehow missing out when really, we just have a heavily biased perception of what’s going on in our peers’ lives.”
  2. “The attention economy rewards people who are narcissistic and self-promotional because these people excel at getting attention. Therefore, it seems that everyone is becoming more shallow and self-absorbed, when in fact, we are merely becoming more exposed to other people’s self-promotion.”
  3. Politics. The more extreme, radical and ignorant views someone holds the better because they’re the most unusual and they grab the most attention. This makes it seem as if the world is full of crazy lunatics, when really, we’re just getting exposed to the people on the fringes more often than ever before. Donald Trump anybody?
  4. “Threats such as Ebola or terrorism become sensationalized, not because they’re actually that threatening, but because of their extremity and how much attention they garner. You’re more likely to get eaten by a shark while getting struck by lightning than dying from a terrorist attack. You’re more likely to die from the flu this year than you are from Ebola, ever. Yet, in our culture, it feels as though the world is in a constant state of imminent collapse.”
  5. “Pointless but dramatic events such as nipple slips, gaffs, errant interviews, and celebrities doing stupid celebrity stuff seem as though they are taking on a much greater cultural significance than they actually are.”

The internet has brought us an abundance of knowledge, but this luxury comes at a price- our own attention spans. We need to remember that social media is just a lens in which we can gather information and stay connected with the people we care about. Forgetting this fact will distort our perception of reality and ultimately change our lives for the worse.