I heard a great podcast from the New York Public Library recently where Tim Wu talked about his new book The Attention Merchants. Tim's argument is more complex than the usual complaints about attention spans getting shorter; he is exploring how attention has a value and every brand is desperately trying to grab some of yours.
In fact, it's not difficult to see what Tim is talking about. Time is finite. We might be able to squeeze more work into the day using the Internet and mobile devices, but there are the same number of hours in a day today as there was 30 years ago when work looked very different.
Think about how a single week might be broken into components:
- 168 hours in a week
- 48 hours is the weekend when ideally you are relaxing
- 40 hours working, assuming 8 hours per day on weekdays only
- 10 hours commuting, assuming you take about an hour to get from home to work
- 56 hours sleeping, assuming you get a good 8 hours a night in bed
So how many hours are left for doing all those things that are not just working or commuting or sleeping? Using these assumptions it is just 14 hours where you have flexibility to do what you like during the entire week.
Now, this assumes that we are removing the weekend from the equation and you might work longer hours - everyone has a different situation and many parents don't feel like the weekend is a relaxing time at all - however the main point is clear. If your working week only has 14 hours where you are flexible to do as you please then you need to be selective about who and what you give your attention to.
Tim Wu suggests recording a diary for a couple of weeks to see if how you think you spend your time is the same as reality. How many hours a day are you really on Facebook and Twitter? How many hours do you spend watching TV? How many hours do you spend in bars searching for some meaning at the bottom of a glass?
Although everyone has different priorities and needs, there is a valuable message here. Your time is limited and advertisers like Google and Facebook have realised it - although most of us still seem blissfully unaware. Our time is one of the most valuable commodities that we can give to advertisers because we generally have so little available.
I try to run everyday, read books, and also read in Portuguese as training for me to get better using that language. I don't succeed in doing everything that I want to everyday, but I do at least have a basic understanding of how valuable my attention is because I have worked for myself for over 12 years now. When you don't have a regular salary coming in, you soon realise that prioritising the day can make a big difference.
You only have 168 hours in each week, rich or poor. What are you going to do with the hours you have available? Who is going to be deserving of your attention today?