The Attention Age… It’s Worse Than You Think

I just got back from San Diego where I spent the better part of the week at my buddy Ryan Deiss’s Traffic and Conversion summit. It was an incredible event. I’d guess there were probably 3,000 people in attendance. Props to Ryan for a really amazing conference. (You should check it out next year if you’ve never been.)

But one of the things at the conference that struck me was the overarching theme of attention. That’s not exactly a new topic for me.

Way back in 2007 I wrote a pretty ground-breaking free report titled The Attention Age Doctrine. It was downloaded a ton.

And it was different from anything I had written in the past. Because unlike it’s Manifesto predecessors (that explained the mistakes entrepreneurs were making), the Doctrine was a prediction about the future.

In the next couple posts, I want to revisit a couple ideas from that report and take a look at how they’ve evolved since I wrote it. And how they’re impacting what you’re trying to accomplish in your business today.

It all started with a really simple premise…

Information Was Getting Out Of Hand

…That we, as citizens of the electronic world, were all getting crushed under a wave of too much information. And that information overload was was having a seriously adverse impact on the world making your prospects’ “attention” the most valuable asset in business…

In my report, I laid out SIX main causes why we were suddenly finding ourselves paralyzed by too much information. They were all true then. And despite some significant efforts to counter them, they mostly all still there today. And some of them have even morphed into new challenges. Let’s review them and see where we’re at today…

“1. We were being bombarded with more information than we can process.”

That hasn’t changed. The sheer amount of information that gets thrown at us is still expanding exponentially. As of the middle of 2014 the internet is over three BILLION Internet users big. (Over double what it was when I wrote the Doctrine.) And that’s created a target rich environment for every content / information provider and marketer in the universe. And not only that, the channels through which that information overload flows have expanded too! The amount of info that we’re facing everyday won’t be slowing down any time soon.

But that’s not all. In addition to shrinking our collective attention spans, today this overload of information has actually diminished our ability to focus and think critically.

You see our brains, as incredible as they are, simply aren’t designed to consciously deal with an overload of information.

I’ve explained in numerous past reports how long periods of intense, focused thinking consume an extraordinary amount of energy. While our brains are hardwired to conserve as much energy as possible. They do that by “habitualizing” certain things we do. The more we “habitualize” anything, the easier it becomes. The less thought we put into anything, the more energy we can save. Including dealing with information we come in contact with.

Recognize it. Then file it or ignore it. (And in the rare case, keep focusing.)

“2. We were being bombarded with unsolicited information.”

And the problem wasn’t just information. We were becoming constantly distracted by information we didn’t even want! Today technology has evolved to rein this in. From “stone age” things like caller ID to more advanced technology like email service providers’ filtering algorithms and search engines tailoring their results to be as relevant to you as possible. But despite all their efforts, marketers continue to find ways to keep dumping more information on you.

Today that continued onslaught of unwanted information has combined with our tendency to “habitualize” to create another more serious problem that can’t be filtered away by the external powers that be. While they can attempt to limit the irrelevant information that distracts us, they simply can’t increase our ability to focus. When we do get distracted by some irrelevant bit of information, often it’s just easier to give in to it rather than forcing ourselves to focus on the things we’re doing.

“3. We were being crushed by the accelerating speed of new information”

All the information we were getting heaped on us began coming faster and faster. That trend hasn’t slowed either.

Back in the “old days” downloading an image could take up to 5 minutes. (Maybe longer.) But while bigger bandwidth and faster processors have made those wait times virtually a thing of the past, they’ve also shrunk our tolerance to wait for anything. This increase in speed has made us more “instant gratification” oriented. We get frustrated faster. We give up more easily. We’re more inclined to just walk away.

We can never go back to slow. But faster isn’t helping.

“4. We began to place less and less value on the information we got”

It is, was and always will be a simple supply and demand. The more information that’s out there, the less value we tend to place on it.

With one exception.

And that’s if the information we get is SPECIFICALLY IMPORTANT TO US. Which brings us to another attention-based obstacle. Finding EXACTLY what you’re looking for before you get frustrated (or even worse — distracted) and just give up. Like I just said, today search tools all try to tailor the results you search for, making it as relevant as possible. But they’re far from perfect. And what’s worse, their efforts to keep things relevant has served to decrease our attention limits even further. (How many times have you clicked to the second page of your Google results?)

“5. We were getting overrun with more and more contradictory information.”

Stands to reason. For everyone saying one thing, there’s someone else trying to grab your attention saying the exact opposite. And of course all these folks supposedly know more than you. Confusion reigned. Frustration dominated. Still does.

“6. Our information needs would keep increasing.”

Back then I envisioned a time when more information would be required just to keep up with the latest developments. And depending on the whiz-bang technology you try too incorporate into your life or business, that’s still the case today. With one notable exception…

That requirement for information has actually fragmented. Anyone over 50 is probably fighting a losing battle just to keep up with advances in technology. So for them, “simpler” has become their information catch-phrase.

While later generations are more likely to welcome and take on more innovating technology (and consequently more information). The post-Millennial generation kids (some call them Gen Z or the iGen) who have no knowledge whatsoever of a world without personal digital media. And their needs for more information have become more specialized.

And because of everything I wrote about in that report, your prospects’ “attention” was and still is the golden ring.

This Is What We’ve Come To…

My “marketing and design ninja” Alan recently told me about a time-tracking product that he’s beta testing.

It isn’t the software itself that’s interesting. (There are already a number of time-tracking applications you can load on your computer.) What was unusual is that the software comes with a bracelet he wears during the day. He sets the performance parameters he wants to hit in the software which then wirelessly connects to the bracelet. Whenever he deviates from what he should be doing, the software recognizes it and sends a signal to the bracelet, which gives him a small electrical shock.

Open his Facebook page when he shouldn’t… zap!

Now I don’t know whether this product will be a winner or not. (Certainly there are some of us who could benefit from that kind of monitoring.) But what struck me was the notion that our ability to focus and pay attention has sunk so low that we’d need the equivalent of an “electronic fence” collar you’d put on your dog to keep him from running away.

The “attention age” is alive and well and still running our lives.

A Quick Question

So this is what the attention age looked (and still looks like) in The Attention Age Doctrine from an information consumer’s point of view. In my next post, I’m going to check in on what it looks like from an entrepreneur’s perspective.

In the meantime, here’s a little exercise I’d challenge you to take.

How do you deal with information overload? How much time do you spend on non-productive tasks like email, surfing the web, watching T.V. or tinkering with your technology to make it work?

Let me know and leave a comment in the field below…

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