New Rule #1: Data & Attention are the New Currency

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How much is your attention worth?

Well, as the person who wrote this post hoping that you might read it – it’s pretty valuable to me. And I’m not alone.

The Internet is the most efficient, far-reaching delivery system ever known. The combination of the Internet & smartphones has now made it possible to communicate a message to anyone, anywhere, 24 hours a day. Food companies, Car manufacturers, mega-corporations, small businesses, and governments – all are trying to get their message to you, all day long. The key to success for any product, movement, or idea is its ability to beat out the competition for a fraction of your focused attention. In such a competitive market, anyone who can successfully deliver your “eye balls”, or claim a certain percentage of your “mind-share” holds an extremely valuable chip. That person or company can use your attention for his own purposes, or sell it to the highest bidder.

Although there were no computers in his day, Paul knew the value of attention. In Chapter 3 of Colossians, Paul makes the point:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

He understood that our attention is finite, so what we do with it matters. He understood that where you spend your attention shapes how you see the world and what you value. If we spend our time focused on the latest Twitter fight, online meme, or Facebook rant, we won’t be focused on Christ, who is our life. Therefore, Christians should be very careful where they “spend” their attention, because where we place our focus ultimately determines what we fill our thoughts with. And if we aren’t filling our thoughts with Christ and “things above”, then we open ourselves up to things that will ultimate pull us away from Christ (Colossians 3:5-10).

While it might feel like it costs you nothing to give away, your attention has real monetary and spiritual value. Be careful whom you give it to.

Just as the Internet has made everyone reachable, technology has increasingly made everything we do measurable. Where we go, what we buy, who we talk to, and even what we say can all be quantified. While all these data points might seem random, when analyzed over time by powerful computers, patterns immerge. And analyzing data that quantifies what we do makes our habits evident – and predictable. For those who collect large quantities of this data, they hold the keys to predicting much of our future behavior. The ability to predict what people will do with reasonable accuracy is very valuable to organizations big and small, because if you can predict behavior, you can control outcomes. No one knows what combination of different data sets might yield highly accurate predictive correlations of people’s behavior. As a result, there is a rush of corporations, governments, and organizations that are collecting seemingly “worthless” data about everything we do, (often without our knowledge). Once you do find a large set of relevant data, it can be sold again and again for everything from predicting traffic patterns to predicting election results.

Your data is the building block of predictive analytics, and can directly shape your physical reality. Therefore it is highly valuable.

So – just like the cash  (you still have cash!!??!?) and credit cards in your wallet, pay attention to what you do with your attention and data. It’s the new currency.

See you next week for Rule #2!!!

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Stop Googling & Talk: Sherry Turkle’s NYT Essay


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Those of you who have frequented this blog before should be familiar with the name Sherry Turkle. She is a clinical psychologist and MIT professor. She is also one of the premiere voices in the discussion of technology’s affect on communication and relationships. Last weekend, the New York Times published her essay, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk”. This informative essay, like her game-changing book Alone Together, speaks to our tendency to use technology as a means of satisfying our desire to feel close to others, without actually providing genuine relationship.

A recurring theme that occurs in this essay is the difference in perception within the families Turkle interviewed during her research. The parents interviewed were worried about their children spending too much time on their devices. They were concerned their children will grow up without the skills needed to hold face-to-face conversations, interpret non-verbal cues, as well as express empathy. Their children however, complained that they had to repeatedly ask for the undivided attention of their technology-distracted parents. Turkle’s work seems to say that all of us are riding a tech-fueled wave that is pushing us toward our devices and away from each other.

Sherry Turkle remains one of, if not the leading voice, on the impact of technology on human relationships. Her work should be required reading for every Christian – both layperson and leader.

Why?

Because as Christians, we can’t love other people as God commands if we create barriers to relationship. Or worse yet, we can’t love people if we create pseudo-relationships, with controlled closeness and limited vulnerability. But, as Sherry Turkle points out, much of our current use of technology is doing just that. We all must begin reclaiming face-to-face conversation and solitude in order to preserve true relationships. I would add that Christians must also reconsider what technology is for – and how it can best be used to fulfill our God-given purpose.

The New York Times essay discussed in this post is adapted from Sherry Turkle’s forthcoming book – Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. So as soon as you’re finished reading this, pick-up a copy.