We need it to learn and grow. To repair, nurture, and care for things. Distilled to its essence, attention is love. In an economic sense, tantamount to society, it is the value chain upon which the 'economy' (wellbeing) of our life depends. And as consequence of the digital, internet-of-things (IoT), and neoliberalist-tech age, it is global.
Economically, global value chains (GVCs) are intricate global networks through which a transnational corporation outsources production¹.
We can think of a GVC like a toll road networking itself across the globe, connecting to more and more countries, governments, states, cities, businesses and people. Each day we wake up and check our mobile phone or IoT device, pour cereal into our bowl, coffee or tea into a cup, and get into our car, we 'travel' upon a transnational company's GVC.
In 2013, the World Investment Report from the UN Commission on Trade and Development estimated 80% of global trade to be contained within GVCs, which account for only 20% of jobs worldwide¹.
Now imagine our attention in this way. It networks itself across our physical and digital spaces, determining our life.
Only there aren't 7.6 billion attention companies. There are thirteen (note the tech industry's dominance of the list—Alphabet is Google). And like the actual global economy, these companies are controlling the majority of our attention and actively seeking to cannibalize the rest.
The standard take-away when criticizing tech companies on the basis of attention is an opportunity cost concept: if my attention is 'here', then it cannot be 'there'. 'Here' being a place of little-to-no value for my life's economy, and 'there' being the opposite.
But there is one consequence of opportunity cost, more in line with a magician's repertoire, that is worth our attention, and that is deception—a concept the current POTUS demonstrates every day.
We interact with our phones, on average, 2,617 times a day, a mouth-watering chunk of attention to be feasted upon by the tech industry's business model. It's also a mouth-watering chunk of attention to be feasted upon by a government, or ruling class, to spread propaganda and influence.
Going further, it means whatever we are seeing and doing on our phones (in this example), whatever our attention is on, becomes what we think, know, and believe. It becomes our life. And this is where deception (misinformation, fake news, alternative facts, lying) plays a dangerous hand. Did anyone notice this intercept article on the Koch brothers' policy victories?
While our attention remains monopolized, companies like Palantir participate in the active spying and arresting of individuals as they develop methods for crime prediction and forecasting, with city governments and police departments, in a world that seems increasingly bent on becoming the one fictionalized in the Steven Spielberg movie, Minority Report.
Attention's opportunity-cost-problem creates the space within our lives for which deception can live and grow. And the problem is outsourced.
In a country turned upon itself and enslaved by principles and policies similar to those guiding our technology companies², Brazil's largest newspaper has recently taken up the fight against Facebook in an effort to dispel any further deception of its citizens.
And let us hope for the best. For in this 'economy' of our lives, attention is the currency, and our home the 'world bank': where we save, borrow, and invest the past, present, and future of our dreams.
May we be diligent.
¹ Ha-Joon Chang Interviews Noam Chomsky on the "Myths of Globalization".
² Chomsky, Noam. "The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux." Who Rules the World?, Picador: 2016.