Trees and Robots

by Jacopo Scazzosi

An economic case for preserving attention

I am always surprised by those who would rather discuss about whether technology is shortening our attention span as opposed to the degree to which it is doing so. The reason behind my surprise is that I can clearly feel the impact that technology is having on my own attention span and on that of those that are around me. I can feel myself becoming restless as I struggle to maintain focus on longer pieces of text, and I can feel the struggle growing as time goes by. Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, I can feel how dramatically easier it becomes to maintain focus after a period of lower exposure to technology.

Although I am happy to see most scientific literature confirming that technology is, indeed, shortening our attention span, my own internal experience of this phenomenon is so incredibly clear that I just know it to be true, just as many others have pointed out time and time again before I even started thinking about it. In a sense, we’ve been waiting for science to catch up to this particular truth.

There has to be a point, however, after which the erosion of our collective attention span begins to negatively affect that which has led to such erosion in the first place: optimizing for user engagement and compulsory usage patterns above all else to maximize exposure to advertisements.

How far are we from that point? Does that point even exist? Could an economic case be made for ceasing to invest so many resources on hijacking our focus before it starts to negatively affect ad-based business models?