Day 625: Attention Redirection

It's interesting, isn't it? Some of us are a little bit more perceptive than others. It seems that way. But I have a different theory about that, that model of attention. They have fancy models of attention, Posner's trinity model of attention. For me, I like to think of it very simple, like a surveillance system. It's kind of like you have all these fancy sensors, and inside your brain is a little security guard. For me, I like to call him Frank. So Frank is sitting at a desk. He's got all sorts of cool information in front of him, high-tech equipment, he's got cameras, he's got a little phone that he can pick up, listen to the ears, all these senses, all these perceptions. But attention is what steers your perceptions, is what controls your reality. It's the gateway to the mind. If you don't attend to something, you can't be aware of it. But ironically, you can attend to something without being aware of it. That's why there's the cocktail effect: When you're in a party, you're having conversations with someone, and yet you can recognize your name and you didn't even realize you were listening to that. 
Now, for my job, I have to play with techniques to exploit this, to play with your attention as a limited resource. So if I could control how you spend your attention, if I could maybe steal your attention through a distraction. Now, instead of doing it like misdirection and throwing it off to the side, instead, what I choose to focus on is Frank, to be able to play with the Frank inside your head, your little security guard, and get you, instead of focusing on your external senses, just to go internal for a second. So if I ask you to access a memory, like, what is that? What just happened? Do you have a wallet? Do you have an American Express in your wallet? And when I do that, your Frank turns around. He accesses the file. He has to rewind the tape. And what's interesting is, he can't rewind the tape at the same time that he's trying to process new data. - Apollo Robbins

This is one of those TED Talks that you have to watch in order to experience the full weight of the point Apollo is making.So if you haven't already, go watch the Talk and then come back here.

I think that most people will agree after watching that that it is pretty damn easy to take advantage of the way we perceive the people and world around us. There may be a few people with extraordinary perception skills, but that is definitely not the norm. Apollo shows us how easy it is to pull one over on you in a very "small" setting - now imagine for a moment that the setting is your whole life and that most of the world is designed in such a way so as to direct your attention onto specific things so that you don't notice what goes on elsewhere.

It's a pretty scary thought - scary enough to make it hard to believe. Unfortunately if you stop for a moment and look at your life and at the world objectively, you will recognise all the different modes of distraction contrasting with the real nature of what's happening in the world. Take the following as an example: You are going out for dinner with your partner and you want to look nice since it's a special occasion. You decide that the occasion justifies the purchase of some new clothes that you can wear to dinner because you want to look good for your partner. While this is going on you're holding a constant internal conversation with yourself, thinking about all the things you'd like, what you think you need, what you think your partner will think, what you think your parents will think, what kind of dress/suit you'd like to wear, what you think your partner will wear and so on and so forth. In the larger scheme of things when you consider the facts of life for so many (like genocide, rape, child soldiers, slavery, prostitution, poverty, etc) - deciding on what to wear for a dinner doesn't seem like it should be given quite so much time and attention. The fact of the matter is that our lives are filled with distractions - generally things that have very little real meaning in the world. When you compare the amount of time, energy and attention we give to the superficial things in our lives to the things that actually matter in the world it all seems quite ridiculous.

Even this post will catch your attention for only a moment, all too soon the memory of it will float away on the breeze and you will move on to new and exciting things to focus your attention on.

The news is a very good example of the fleeting nature of the human attention span. How many breaking stories do you see in a month, or in 6 months? Can you recall the things you thought were important 6 months ago (that are not still being splashed all over the news)? Is Bring Back Our Girls as fresh and important to you now as it was when the story first broke? Doubtful - your attention has likely been redirected to something new and fresh.

He who controls the attention of the human race also controls the world.