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Is there no way back? A roadmap for humans in the attention economy

07.02.2020 – 5 min. read

Distracted guy in the attention economy

07.02.2020

5 min. read

Since the beginning of time, humans have always been looking for the easiest way to do things. This is something tech companies and designers have understood from the get go: creating solutions that are more convenient and time saving for humans. This is a great thing. However, the development of technologies, such as smartphones, has made us become dependent on them. In other words, the search for convenience has led us to lose an essential attribute that makes us human: our ability to concentrate and to think critically on our own. This makes us beg the question: are we destined to lose all of our human capacities? Or are we still on time to take matters back into our hands and design a more desirable future in which humans can keep their humanity?

The attention economy: meaningful for companies, risky for humans

Given that technology has greatly impacted our daily lives, we strongly believe that it holds the power to improve our future as well. From keeping a long-distance relationship by allowing you to chat with your partner instantaneously, to finding your way back home easily when lost in a city, or being interested in learning new things, the internet is always there to help you. At the same time, the rise of technology and the development of the digital world, has made us entered a new economy called the attention economy. In short, due to the constant bombardment of information, attention has now become a scarce commodity. Attention has become a resource we only have so much of.

The factors that have led to this phenomenon have not occured with evil intent. As it became necessary in order to remain competitive, economic patterns, which have taken control of human abilities such as those of deciding what is worthy of our attention, were developed. This has provided our devices and its apps with huge power: the ability to modify our thinking processes and our reflexes. Take two simple, modern examples: Brexit and the US presidential elections. Through these two events, we have been able to witness the ability that social networking has to influences whole electoral bodies, even leading them to take decisions that would seem opposite to their own interests.

This occurrence, however, does not only happen in politics. The “attention economy” holds power in other areas of life which could lead humanity down a dangerous path. Our capacity to focus on things – an essential element in critical thinking, developing passions or learning new skills – has become something constantly challenged. The problem with this is that it could lead to social determinism: a world where elites, aware of the danger of technologies, are the only ones knowing how to act, while other have no choice but to passively observe their loss of freedom and control.

In the end, it should be about choosing which society we want for tomorrow, and technology’s place in it.

The illusion of the solution to attention economy

So what is there to do?

How do we take back control when technology is going against what makes us human?

Today’s solutions against the attention economy problems are not very efficient. Just as French philosopher Yves Citton writes in his book For an ecology of attention, the only way seems to be to go back to the past. As he states “the third millenia begins with a complaint bigger than ever around information overload. A lamentation without hope other than a horizon where wisdom has guided us back to the ways and the quality of life of the past.” 

We juxtapose this world with harmful digital technology to that of a world where it never existed; the later providing with the only option to once more attain wellness. The exact and only answer to the problem of attention economy seems to be that of limiting our usage of digital technology. In other words, creating a moment where we don’t have access to the digital world, hence technology ceasing to exist. 

“At Let Me Think we are convinced that humans need to be reconciled with technology.

On board with this idea, tech giants like Google or Apple have created Time Tracking applications in their respective devices, in an attempt to help us limit our smartphone use. This is achieved by setting time limits to block access to certain apps. However, this “solution”, more than tackling the issue, tackles the critics behind smartphone addiction. They seem to be saying “yes, we take care of our customers, and we are building digital wellness features” instead of taking the problem seriously. A bit ironic when we know they are the ones leading to the addiction by designing smartphones and apps to make us want to spend more time on them. Naturally they will never be able to take the problem too seriously as they make money when you spend time on your device. This is in a nutshell the attention economy

The era of simplicity

But we at Let Me Think are convinced that humans need to be reconciled with technology. It is unimaginable to think that, twenty years from now, the digital world’s significance in our lives will decrease. As such, we believe today’s answer to the attention economy problematic is neither suitable nor sustainable. We just can’t imagine going back to the past. It is paramount that we begin thinking, as soon as possible, on a way to build a world that is still beneficial for us all, while still involving an increasingly important technology.

As of today, tech giants and their app designers have created a sort of simplicity. Their goal in mind: to allow us an easier, simpler way to access the digital world. However, our wonderful smartphone devices come at a cost: a loss of consciousness when using it. It has occured to us all at least once to unlock our phone to check time,  and end up then spending 10 minutes scrolling endlessly on a social media, just to end up putting down our phone on our desk, and asking ourselves “actually, what time is it?”. This simplicity being an economical and political choice in the context of the attention economy.

The real solution: Let Me Think's simplicity

We at Let Me Think have imagined a new kind of simplicity. One that still allows us to keep conscious control, without needing to block access to our apps. We are convinced that battle will be on the ground of simplicity. But not one that blocks our access unsustainably, one that enhances it. We believe in a new simplicity where our smartphones adapt to what we do. Rather than offering us access to all apps at all times, our smartphones will only offer those we truly need. Not blocked, enhanced. 

As of now, taking back control over our smartphones use isn’t so simple. We can really only block access to apps. While designed to have us spend as much time as possible on them, our devices never take into account our current context. As such, it has become necessary to think outside the box and create a new paradigm for our relationship with technology. A paradigm fit to tackle the problems of the attention economy. This is what Let Me Think believes in. A relationship where humans regain control, and technology once more becomes a tool at our service.

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