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 using  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?

7 thoughts on “What Deserves Your Attention?”

  1. Here is just a sampling of things that deserve my attention:

    – My physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health
    – People who and habits that help me be my better self
    – Advocacy that makes positive change desirable, necessary, and possible
    – Organizations that work for the justice I seek in the world
    – Respected news sources and the news they report
    – Nature — from my backyard to farmland to glaciers — and how and why it is changing so fast
    – Good books
    – Time to reflect
    – Things, on a daily basis, that help my brain and body recharge — yes, some Netflix and social media is okay

    1. Great list, Michael. Right now my attention is focused on the inhumane treatment of the asylum-seekers detained in Texas. My church, along with others, is calling on us to call our representatives in Congress to come to their aid. I mention this in the hope that anyone reading this will do the same.

        1. Thanks, Michael. Good luck! The wheels of Congress grind slowly so also looking for a NGO that is advocating/ taking action for the detainees. Let me know if you know some good ones. ACLU?
          Amnesty International? Raices? The need is immediate! The men I saw had no where to sleep.

          1. Tom–here in Minnesota, MIRAC (Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee) is doing a lot. Check them out.

  2. One more thought about this question. Often I see parents with young children paying more attention to their smart phones than to their children. I also see people out walking their dogs, ignoring them while looking at the phone. Children (and dogs) deserve our attention. And then, there are lonely people who could use a phone call or a visit…

    1. Tom–yes! Knowing how to focus on who we are with instead of being glued to the phone. The irony of two people sitting at a restaurant together, both reading their phone instead of talking to each other. The danger of students walking across campus (and across roads, transit lines etc.) looking at their phones. But the saddest, I agree, is to see someone out with a child and not engaging. We are missing the opportunity to connect.

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