By Tim Ryan


In the new economy your attention is in demand. Every app, service you download vies to fill in a ‘need’ and through a mix of pull and push notifications we unwittingly fill our time. Today the average person checks their phone every six minutes, about 150 times a day, carving into those moments in-between we once called down-time. 


Rationally we can argue for the purpose of the emerging mix of apps and services at our fingertips. Tinder promises love (or something), Uber gets us home, and some just get us through a crowded train ride sanely (e.g. Fruit Ninja). Why shouldn’t these services exist? Of course they should, and as consumers, we latch on en masse while Silicon Valley is busy building the next app which hasn’t yet become oversaturated to the point of cliche. With a never ending litany of apps and information to troll through we reflexively grab devices at the slightest hint of boredom or discomfort and with good reason. 


Trending in most modern applications is the promise that they’ll get better at understanding us over time. Already a syphon for our time and attention, add wearables and IoT technology to to the mix and we’ll soon have more inputs than ever before to manage. What’s gained from these interactions is the illusion of control; the idea that we can be the architects of every facet of our lives and somehow walk out of this life untainted or unscathed, checking off boxes while our digital assistants point us towards more of the experiences we crave while helping us avoid others. 


What’s lost is that which no algorithm can replicate. When technology is increasingly funneling towards ‘optimal’ experiences it actively works to negate the things we do subconsciously, irrationally and against our best interest, but are so essential to the human experience. We are also resigning ourselves to the algorithmic constraints of the technology at hand, and with it the imagination to push beyond them. The risk it seems, is not in finding more experiences that should be amenable to us but in missing out on those ones which challenge us to be spontaneous, creative, or present in which we work


“The risk it seems, is... not in finding more experiences...but in missing out on those ones which challenge us to be spontaneous, creative, or present”.


through and grow. As individuals, we’re smarter than the sum of our devices and we know it. It’s harder to quantify or define, but this sentiment could explain the backlash against technology which has manifested itself in device free getaways and applications which curb usage. Creative professionals are beginning to understand that time unplugged positively affects their output and a new wave of parental controls protect children from the impact of digital becoming all consuming. Technology is by no means going away, but a more measured approach may become the norm, and detaching completely could become essential to expanding our thinking outside of the applications we reflexively return to time and time again. If it’s reasonable to suspect that technology will only become more intertwined into our daily lives, holding onto what’s tangible may prove to be an effective counter-balance. So long as there is a demand for experiences away from a screen, maybe digital doesn’t envelop us completely. In that scenario, we retain a semblance control over the applications tugging at our attention and hopefully, the future that follows.