What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines? We wouldn’t be always clutching smartphones if we didn’t believe they made us safer, more productive, less bored, and were useful in all of the ways that a computer in your pocket can be useful. At the same time, smartphone owners describe feeling “frustrated” and “distracted.”
The basic idea here is that for most people will power is a limited resource: if we spend lots of energy controlling our impulses in one area, it becomes harder to control our impulses in others. Or, as the psychologist Roy Baumeister puts it, will power is like a muscle: overuse temporarily exhausts it. The implication is that asking people to regulate their behavior without interruption (by, say, never going online at work) may very well make them less focussed and less effective.
We live in an attention economy where products or websites win by getting our time. It’s a race to the bottom of the brain stem to hijack our mind.
We’re left constantly distracted.
Either we connect, but constantly get sucked in. Or we unplug, but lose all the benefits of technology completely.
We’ve had enough. We need to restore choice.
We believe in a new kind of design, that lets us connect without getting sucked in. And disconnect, without missing something important.
And we believe in a new kind economy that’s built to help us spend time well, where products compete to help us live by our values.
The economist Herbert A. Simon first developed the concept of an attention economy in a 1971 essay.1 Taking note of the new phenomenon of “information overload,” Simon pointed out something that now seems obvious—that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” In recent years, thinking about attention as a scarce resource has come into vogue as a way to appraise the human and psychological impact of digital and social media.
“A.D.D. for all” is the phrase that inspired it, Alan Schwarz writes in his new book, “A.D.H.D. Nation.”