Should you pay more attention to the ‘attention price’ you pay, my #highered friend?

May 28th, 2014 Karine Joly 14 Comments

Is Your Attention Under Attack?

No time?

There’s always been a battle to steal and keep our attention, but it has intensified to the point where the tech industry itself has become obsessed with mindfulness practices, meditation and other practices designed to train the mind to focus again. Even as I type this first sentence of my draft in Evernote (the cloud-based application I use for taking and organizing my digital notes) is pushing below the box where I write a series other unrelated “related notes” identified by a well-intentioned (?) algorithm.

More is better, right? Wrong.

In this specific case, I was looking for a way to focus to process and reflect on what’s in my head and not to get bombarded by more possible connected notes stealing away the attention I want to give to this post.

Paying attention has become tougher because of ALL the “amazing things and opportunities” out there knocking at our doors.

The Attention Economy: A Flourishing Business

That’s why it is so easy to binge on checking facebook notifications, twitter updates and other articles designed only to capture and retain our attention long enough to justify the money marketers invest on social media advertising or the digital ads now keeping in business digital content publishers.

Over the past 12 months a gigantic amount of content has been created to catch our elusive attention. For the big social media players, the goal is to make sure the KPIs chosen to measure attention by advertisers (page views, visits, time on page and sometimes clicks) look good. That’s why most platforms have adopted the bait-and-switch approach to attract marketers by providing a platform to distribute content freely before slowly reducing the free flow of this content to charge for its distribution.

While free might be attractive for the consumer, the creator or even the marketer, it’s always a double-edged sword.

Products, companies or other ventures relying on the free proposition can only be fueled by venture capitalists: investors lending their money in exchange for a future return on investment. In the search for monetization, something (well, somebody in this instance) always gets sold.

While Facebook, Twitter, Google and any other company provide products or services free of charge to the users we are, we might not pay with our dollars, but we always pay with our attention, time and data.

Are your Attention, Time and Data Valuable to YOU?

What dollar value would you put on them?

It all depends on how you want “to measure your life” as Clayton Christensen, the expert on disruptive innovation and the author of How Will You Measure Your Life? would say. By “measuring your life,” I’m not talking about your bucket list, but more about the core values you want to use to guide the way you live your life.

So, what does matter to you, your family and your institution?

Does My Brain Look Fat?

It’s so easy to lose focus when our attention is constantly pulled away by so many notifications, opportunities, funny videos, meetings, conferences, blog posts, etc.

According to research on the brain as well as good old surviving-of-the-fittest theory, our brain is wired to pay attention to exterior stimuli all the time. Our brains are structured to connect things together, always looking for more things to assess and connect. This “wiring” has been designed over millions of years. And, the human brain has indeed adapted to the increasing number of stimuli.

However, the past 5 years have seen an unprecedented explosion of the amount of content (information, data, photos, videos, etc.), gazillions pieces of content fighting EVERY SECOND for our attention with the rise of social media and the “content IV” our always-on mobile devices enable.

In front of this never-ending digital content buffet, it’s crucial to stop, pause and come up with a strategy to avoid getting too fat, sick or – at the other side of the spectrum – totally bailing out and declaring “email/news/social media” bankruptcy before going to live in the woods.

This is important because what you feed your brain has a deep impact on its plasticity – the way it changes and rewires itself. According to neuroscience research, our brains keep rewiring, developing and atrophying themselves depending on what cognitive functions we use on a daily basis.

In a similar way that your body is a by-product of your genes but also your activity levels and your diet, your current (and future) brain is the result of its genetic make-up as well as what you do with it.

Ok, Karine, but what does it have to do with higher ed marketing?

Raising Hands

Nothing and everything.

As digital professionals you are a prime target for attention-grabbing tactics developed by social media platforms, other digital publishers and mobile applications.

With its wonderful culture of sharing, our professional community is also producing a great deal of content through conference presentations, articles, blog posts, surveys, reports, etc. – increasing even more the demands on your attention as professional FOMO (fear of missing out) strikes you.

Add to this mix the lack of quantified goals and directions so ingrained in the non-profit identity (profit on the contrary is quantifiable by nature) and you get the recipe for brain overload – and down the line: burnout.

So, how do YOU (yep, you, reading) cope with this increasing demand on your time and attention?

As crowdfunding can be a fantastic solution to support and implement what matters to end users or consumers, I believe in the power of crowdsourcing solutions to common problems.

That’s why I would LOVE to hear how you manage the demands on your time and attention, what strategies or tricks do you use to keep your brain on target and on track while it’s being attacked by all these attention-grabbing digital bullets?