“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simone Weil
I am a daily meditator, which is another way of saying that I work with my own attention every day. As anyone who has ever tried to sit in quiet will attest, for as many days as I get to fall back into a deep pulsing vibration of stillness, there are the minutes of watching my mind flit from one thing to the next, repeating old fears and latching onto new anxieties. I sit, praying for a moment of quiet in the noise in my head. And I try to remind myself, this is part of the practice too- learning about my own capacity for attention starts with witnessing it. I bring up this meditation practice because as an entrepreneur in the consumer product space, the rest of my day I spend trying to figure out how to bring sustained attention to our messaging about love and intimacy. Of course I am not alone, our attention in fact, is the new currency of wealth and not just for tech startups. Every company now measures its successful delivery by how much attention it can grab, how often, and for how long.
Truly, our attention is everything. And if it seems like it is harder than ever to direct your own attention, it’s because it’s true. As our attention becomes the currency for relevancy and business, technology and software designers are employing dog training techniques into their functionality. Sending subliminal rewards to keep you attached to your screen and to pull you out of the immediate experience you are in. And they are getting better at it all the time. And so it goes with the rest of us just trying to keep up- we spend hours every day, creating and curating content to get attention.
Ironically, the content we create is about trying to get followers to unplug and pay attention to life’s most intimate moments. I have often written about the tragedy of the date nights I frequently witness, with 2 people sitting across from each other staring into their devices instead of gazing at each other. Read more about the disruption of technology within relationships in my post, EASY: A Good Clean Love Take. I devoted an entire chapter to attention in my new book, Sex That Works, because without the ability to control and focus our own attention, there is little presence we can bring to any part of life, including the most rewarding aspect of being intimately connected. I know the dilemma, of how addictive it can be to follow back, respond to every text the moment they arrive, checking email to see if the deal is good…I also know the toll it takes on my ability to bring my full presence to the people right in front of me.
It was heartening to learn recently about a few young Silicon Valley tech geniuses who are pushing back. Tristan Harris, a former Google executive and now founder of Time Well Spent knows from his own participation, that it isn’t personal weakness creating this growing addiction to our tech devices, but the technology itself which has overrun our own ability to control it. He calls it a design flaw, built into the technology itself which perpetuates an average of checking one’s phone 150 times per day. The unplug movement, referred to as “digital detox” is a growing phenomenon, where young people are opting to spend time in device free zones, coloring and playing games. And he is boldly leading the fight toward demanding technology design that does not capitalize on human psychological weakness and returns our devices to a greater sense of personal agency.
So here is the conundrum: we all want attention, everyone wants their voice to be heard and yet, who wants to contribute to technology addiction? What happens when content actually breaks through the noise for us- what grabs our attention? Are we searching for information that brings more meaning to our life or are we just looking to be entertained? Sensationalism works but does it do anything for our attention? I think not. At least I am clear now that the only content we will put into the stream of our collective consciousness will be to wake up the heart, to commit our focus on the people we love best, and to learn to listen for the silence in oneself.