Note — Jan 09, 2022

Your Attention Is Not a Resource

Seen in → No.201

Source →

One of my go to people for smart thinking, L. M. Sacasas, does something too few people do; he’s reviewing his views on a topic and reassessing. In this case, the idea of seeing attention as a finite resource, something to be managed.

Sacasas, using Illich and Cayley’s thinking, is starting to look in the opposite direction and invites us to consider a proposition: you and I have exactly as much attention as we need, it’s not scarce. His / their position, if I can put it in one phrase, is that considering attention as a scarce resource makes it part of economic thinking, which it shouldn’t be.

As every article I share here, I invite you to read the whole thing after this short take but I’d also like to connect it to some other ideas, which you can keep in mind while reading. First, much of the same argument applies to nature. It might feel like a great way to raise the importance of nature by assigning monetary value to it, but it’s also a disservice, better to find a ‘higher reason’ for it than just dollars and cents. Second, we need to sleep to process what we live while awake, we have biological limits, our attention is all we can handle, it hasn’t been stolen. Priorities on how we orient it dont have to be in the language of capitalism. Third, it feels very adjacent to me to the idea of ‘just enough.’ And finally, Illich “studiously avoided the language of ‘values’ in favour of talk about the ‘good’,” which I’d like to link of course to common good, something that is often underlying many of the ‘society-level’ ideas I share here.

Illich began referring to the “certainties” upon which modern institutions rested. These certainties were assumptions of which we are barely aware, assumptions which lend current institutional structures a patina of inevitability. […]

As Illich put it, he wanted to defend “alternatives to economics” not simply “economic alternatives.” […]

[R]esisting the assumption of scarcity probably presumes the acceptance in principle of benevolent limits, limits that, far from amounting to constraints to be overcome, are, in fact, the necessary parameters of our well-being. […]

He believed that the good could be established by observing the requirements of proportionality or complementarity in a given moment or situation. The good was characterized by its fittingness. Illich sometimes characterized it as a matter of answering a call as opposed to applying a rule.