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Culture

The Value of Attention

If you want to know what’s important to a person…

1990s answer — Look in their checkbook…

checkbook register

and follow the money. Where a person spends money shows what they really value.

2000s answer — Look at their calendar…

Google Calendar

and see where they spend their time. Where a person spends their time shows what they really value.

2015 answer — Look at what they pay attention to…

obamas-on-phone

and you’ll see what they value. Where a person’s attention is at is what they care the most about, regardless of place or time.

The Power Shift

Those old adages are no longer true, particularly when it comes to younger people. (Teenagers and young adults.)

They have little control of where they spend their money. We no longer live in a country where most teenagers and young adults have jobs. What disposable money they have is more likely to come from their parents or debt than from money they’ve earned. Largely, what money they have is already spoken for. Consequently, what they spend their money on has less and less value.

They have little control of their schedule. Schools, sports, after school activities, social responsibilities, church & service expectations, and an incredible amount of newfound travel accessibility means that people’s bodies are busier than ever… But going places and doing things just doesn’t have the same value that it once did. Going on a big trip, going off to college, or even going out to dinner with your family– all are less of a big deal than ever.

Today’s teenagers and young adults have almost no control or choice over their schedule… and consequently, it’s value to them means less.

So what’s the most valuable thing today? 

Attention. 

Here’s the thought process– you’re likely doing it and haven’t even thought about it…

I will go somewhere I’m forced to go, say to school or watching a movie on the couch with my parents Friday night– but being there doesn’t ascribe value to that activity because you you can’t make me pay attention. Being there and paying attention are two different things. One I have choice over and the other I don’t.

Attention is my choice.

Where I go is irrelevant.

Doesn’t really matter if I have money.

I will pay attention to what I want to pay attention. That’s my choice.

Welcome to the Attention Economy

Consequently, things that get our attention have the most value in our society.

  • Why is Snapchat valued at $10 billion without a real revenue stream to back it up? Attention.
  • Why are presidential candidates jockeying for the perfect announcement? Attention.
  • Why does ISIL have power? Attention.
  • Why do people look at their phones in the middle of the sermon? Attention.
  • Why do brands do outlandish things like give away their product on a specific day? Attention.
  • Why do app developers build in like buttons, push notifications, and other tricks to trigger your brain to release dopamine? Attention.
  • Why are you reading this right now instead of working? Attention.

In 2015, if you want to make money. If you want to impact change. If you want to gain power.

You have to get people to give you their attention.

Take my money.

Take my freedom of movement.

But only I will know if I give you my attention.

Unlike money, unlike place, unlike time… my attention is finite. It’s limited and what I pay attention to is is my choice and shows what I value.

Ruh Roh, Shaggy

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Buy you know what? The flip side is also true.

I might be physically present. I might give you money. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

You’ll know I value something by what I pay attention to.

Thought Questions

  1. In what ways is this true or false in your line of work?
  2. Do you agree that money and time have less value?
  3. If this is true, what needs to change for your organization to accomplish it’s goals?
Photo credit: See it in my eyes by Adriana Cecchi via Flickr (Creative Commons)

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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