Ambiance & Attention

A lot of tv viewing and radio listening was ambient, now not only are they replaced by a lot more sources vying for our attention, they are replaced by platforms that require focus.

Like quite a few people, I spent a chunk of the holidays with older people. In my case, that means boomer+, which means people who spend a great deal of their waking life with radio or tv turned on. They don’t necessarily pay attention to it, but whatever’s on does make its way in everyone’s ears and minds.

Earlier today, I was reading this excellent 2023 predictions piece by Scott Galloway, where he drops this little tidbit in passing; “When young people are asked to choose between TikTok and all of tv/streaming … they choose TikTok.” He doesn’t give a source so I don’t know if it’s a personal observation or based in some research, but judging by how TikTok replaced so much of social networks and streaming and how they themselves had replaced traditional tv, it’s at least reasonable to think his statement is true to a large degree.

The thing I’d never thought of amidst all the “we lost our capacity for attention,” “reclaim your attention,” and “attention wars,” is that it’s also a different kind of attention. Newspapers and time-specific once-a-day newscasts have been replaced by all-day news, that’s old news. Streaming and binge watching has replaced “appointment” tv, that’s also old news. But TikTok, Instagram and generally younger generations’ viewing habits have moved to mobile. You can’t have those videos and pictures on a screen in the background and just have some of it seeping in, you have to pay attention. (Even if you did manage that, I’d argue that a lower percentage would make sense than with tv.)

In other words, not only do we have an exponentially greater number of things vying for our attention than we did 10-20-30 years ago, but a lot of that attention needs to be focused. Hours of tv are replaced by more hours of streaming and TikTok-ing and those hours are, in theory, all about something viewers are interested in (hello TT algo!) and don’t work as ambient viewing, which was a good chunk of those tv and radio hours back in the day.

Not a huge insight, and it might have been clear to some for a while, but it feels pretty important, more hours with screens on and more hours focused on them, not glancing.

[Would you relax? They never look up.]
Source: The New Yorker.

Your Futures Thinking Observatory