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Attention technology (1): introduction

In this series of articles we discuss some of the key reflections of Bernard Stiegler's analysis on the link between digital technologies and the destruction of attention; on its consequences for individual and collective life.
MSA tecnologia attenzione

by Carlo Carnevale
In this series of article we discuss some of the major ideas in Bernard Stiegler 's reflections upon digital technologies and the destruction of attention; its consequences for individual and collective life. We're witnessing how present digital technologies, functionalized by the market, are becoming one of the major factors contributing to the "destruction of attention" (in Stiegler's terms) and we shall discuss meditation as a potential solution. If "life is made of what the pay attention to" (De Preester, 2021), then our ability to maintain attention or mindfully directing it is essential for our autonomy and the care of ourselves. Instead of allowing our attention to be hijacked by ever-present marketing; taking responsibility for our attentional practices could today deserve the status of right, to be safeguarded urgently in front of the current attention economy situation.

In the so calledattention economyhuman attention possibly represents the most valuable resource for successful companies. In this configuration, the supply of capital, workforce, and information is abundant, while human attention remains insufficient. Although it is easy to start an activity and reach consumers, capturing their attention remains a crucial challenge.

The digital world, in its promiscuity, is the main stage to this ubiquitous competition for the consumers' attention and the increasing immersive qualities of the digital medium only make this strife ever more pervasive. And yet, it is apparent, despite the self-indulgent fairytale of multitasking, attention does have computational limits. "The bandwidth of telecommunications is not a problem, the human one is" (Davenport & Beck, 2001). As Herbert Simon famously put it: "What information consumes is quite evident: it consumes its recipients' attention. Thus abundance of information creates scarcity of attention" (Simon, 1971).

From the perspective of mass consumers (that is to say, of individuals), however, it is not only about efficiently allocating their own attention; it is increasingly about developing the ability to ignore what tries (and is specifically engineered to) capture their attention.

What we experience to be "our lives" mainly consists of the time of which we have conscious experience. What we experience thus depends on what has access to consciousness and, crucially, it is through the filtering of attention that consciousness is accessed.
For this very reason, what or whoever may control our attention hold privileged leverage upon what (and how) we experience during our conscious lives.

Without realizing it, our limited attentive resources are depleted and our behavior changes according to the goals of whatever holds our attention captive; reclaiming our mental presence and our choices as our own calls for the development of the conscious ability to regulate attention, of investing it mindfully. In other words, facing the pervasiveness of digital technologies and its employment instrumental to marketing techniques, exercising control over attention assumes the profile of an emancipatory practice.

Sources & Further Readings:
T.H. Davenport, J.C. Beck, 2001, “The Attention Economy : Understanding the New Currency of Business”

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