What Deserves Your Attention?

Our brains are remarkable entities. We can perform some truly amazing mental feats, like learning language, memorization, pattern matching, and reading maps (among others). One of the less heralded skills is that of providing attention.

Every waking moment, your mind is focused on a task (and sometimes more than one if you try to multi-task). How you choose to spend your time is how your attention is allocated.

In our modern world, there is fierce competition for our attention. This serves as an illustration about how valuable it is. Entire industries revolve around how to capture — and keep — your attention.

In The News

For example, let’s consider a cable news program. A typical news show features several different items for you to pay attention to. An interview might be going on, so you might be listening to the content being spoken aloud. There is likely a graphic with the guest’s name and qualifications. This sometimes also updates to a notable quote or excerpt from the interview.

In addition, there may be a news scroll across the bottom of the screen with news headlines, and there may be a “breaking news” blurb specifically designed to draw your eyes. Often included is some sort of steady information, like the current time and temperature, or the state of the stock market. Finally, there is certainly a station identifier, to let you know exactly what channel you are viewing.

Having so much information available serves several purposes. The primary purpose — say, the interview — is presumably the reason to tune in initially. The others are there to provide information that might be helpful to you, but also to keep you from giving your attention to another source.

When you are watching a program like this, your attention is primarily focused on one item. However, there is likely some small percentage of your attention on each element on the screen.

Demands Of Social Media

Have you ever noticed that when usingĀ  a social media site like Facebook or Twitter, that you mean to do a quick check, but then find that half an hour or even more has passed without you realizing it? That happens because the layout and design of these sites are carefully crafted to capture and keep your attention. Facebook wants you to keep scrolling and Netflix wants you to keep binging.

With so many different demands on our valuable attention, have you given any thought to how you spend your time? News, family, your smartphone, the local sports team, a book: what deserves our attention?

Related questions: How do you set priorities? Are we too busy? What do you get out of social media? Is our attention fractured?

How Do We Know We Are Right?

This week’s (right?) question comes to us via reader Harold:

One of the problems we face in today’s society s that we live in a media bubble. From the blogs we read, to the TV channels we watch, to the conversations we have with friends, our own opinions are often reflected back at us, reinforcing our view of the world.

But what happens if that view is not accurate? What if my incorrect beliefs, my mistaken facts, have been repeated so often that I simply accept them as true?

I hold my truths to be self evident. But then again, people who believe the exact opposite from me think they are right just as passionately as I do. If they didn’t — or I didn’t — we’d change our minds.

If two people hold opposite viewpoints on things, at least one of them must be mistaken. Is there any way that I can make sure that it isn’t me? Or is it likely that we are both wrong, and the truth is actually somewhere in the middle of our beliefs? Does it matter?

It would certainly be an unfortunate turn of events if I hold the correct point of view, but due merely to lack of confidence I were to incorrectly concede. Instead, I barrel on in every circumstance, certain of my infallibility, despite copious evidence to the contrary. That would be fine of I were right about everything, but clearly I am not.

So how can we tell? How can we separate out truth from persuasive fiction? How do we know we are right? Or wrong?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? How do you know who to trust? How can we become better listeners?