“[What information consumes is] the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” – Herbert Simon Nobel winner, Economics (1978)
As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more and more deft at measuring my attention span. When I was younger I was terrible at paying attention, to anything. But as I got older I developed a way of maintaining my engagement, while simultaneously letting my mind wander. Surprisingly, I do this by engaging in multiple information sources at once. This makes little to no sense from the outset but engaging with another medium glancingly while paying attention to the most important information source, I can adjust my attention scale up and down. Sometimes it doesn’t work but interestingly, having nothing else to engage with leads me to zone out even more.
Recently I started taking note of examples when people should or shouldn’t be paying as much attention. Take for example my best friend, who it is common for him to have an earbud in while having a conversation. He’s always listening to music, it’s his passion, but sometimes it can be incredibly jarring and hard to avoid feeling like his attentions are else where, even though they aren’t.
Sometimes it is critical to have focus on one thing, which is always the hardest when its most needed. A time that calls to mind is when I was playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends. In between each of yours goes it is essential to stay engaged in order to understand what is happening to provide context for your own go, and as such it becomes very hard to fully be absorbed when people are confused and not involved.
These days we pay attention mostly to the information that supports us, zoning off from other ideas and influences. Part of the modern conundrum is learning not to be drawn into your own little bubble exclusively. Figuring out how to participate in your own manner to the fullest of your potential can be difficult but once you figure out what works for you it’s a skill for life.