We are living in a world where your attention is now a commodity to be bought and sold. There is a market, a competition for your attention; where your attention is directed and for how long is hugely profitable for some.
This week we saw Google’s profits rise by 29% (up to $5.43 billion). Much of that profit, it seems, is based on strong advertising sales. So in answer to the question ‘who has your attention?’, it’s not you – it seems for many of us it’s Google.
And it’s going to get worse. Companies like Google are creating more and more information, which at some point is going to far exceed the ability of every human being’s capacity to pay attention. It is in this continually-growing gap that seems to be where the market is. It’s in the interests of advertising to keep you distracted for as long as possible and to keep your attention locked into a cycle of containment.
This is a big worry because once your ability to direct and sustain attention is shaped and managed by others you lose the ability to be yourself. And that’s when the trouble starts as it can only lead to inner turmoil, stress and anxiety.
“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Herbert Simon
Where you decide to place your attention is crucial to your wellbeing.
To keep your attention Google (and plenty of others) are manipulating your brain’s Default Operating Network. Often referred to as your ‘monkey mind’. It’s where your self-image resides, defined by thoughts of I, Me and Mine. This creates recursive cyclical thinking that swings between negative and positive, fuelled by your default negativity bias.
You can either accept your monkey mind leaping from one thing to another, which is just want Google wants. Or you can decide to take back control and direct your attention with purpose, because your monkey mind is linked to your negativity bias. It’s always on the look-out for new things that might confirm assumptions or stimulate concerns and anxieties. Either way, it’s not a healthy outcome.
You can decide to direct your attention purposefully, stay centred and alert moment-by-moment. This is a much better use of your attention. It brings freedom, insight and a sense of knowing that the Google algorithm will never be able to commodify. And that’s because it’s you.
This is the core of modern meditation practice. After a while you begin to smooth out your default operating network. You react more productively and you see things more clearly. The result is a simple, relaxed and knowing awareness linked to what is happening right now, distinct from any other information about what should be happening.
Of course it’s ironic that Google as a business is pioneering workplace meditation. But hey, we have to start somewhere!
So decide: do you really want Google to claim ownership of your ability to be conscious? Are you for sale? Or are you free?