Attention Economy

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In a recent Guardian articleCatherine Price, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, reminds us that it’s time to break up with our phones because the apps that we are hooked into seek our attention all the time, and they are designed to be addictive. Recently, I wrote about our use of cellphones in our daily lives.

It was 2016, and I couldn’t find a book that examined why our phones are so compelling and what effects they have on us, let alone one that offered a solution. So I decided to write it myself. What I learned changed my life – and I hope it might do the same for you.

There are many reasons that we’re tethered to our phones, but the one that I find the most infuriating is that our most time-sucking apps are deliberately designed to hook us – because that’s how their creators make money.

– Catherine Price on The Guardian

In the article, she discusses the attention economy, where app-owning tech giants make money from seeking our attention rather than products or services. She write “We only experience what we pay attention to; we only remember what we pay attention to. Sure, there are many reasons we might want – or need –
to pay attention to what’s on our phone. But it’s also essential to remember that, like time, our attention is a zero-sum equation: every minute we spend mindlessly scrolling is a minute we didn’t spend on something else, something we might actually care about. That’s a big deal, because these minutes, when repeated over hours and days and weeks and months, add up to our lives.”

In this economy, we are not the customers of these apps; advertisers are. We are, essentially, the product, manipulated into giving our most valuable asset – our attention – away for free.

App makers hook us by mimicking techniques used by slot machines, which are widely considered to be some of the most addictive machines ever to be invented. This is because slot machines are designed to trigger the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that (among other things) helps our brains record when a behavior is worth repeating – and then motivates us to repeat it.

– Catherine Price on The Guardian

Tristan Harris, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Humane Technology, reportedly believes that phones as slot machines that we keep in our pockets. “This is why apps such as social media, the news, email, games and shopping are so easy to lose time on: they’re the ones with the most dopamine triggers,” writes Catherine.