The importance of attention as experience

Dan Nixon introduces his essay for Aeon magazine

How we pay attention, and what we pay attention to, is central to Perspectiva’s mission to explore the ways in which our inner lives intersect with various complex, global challenges. But what are we taking ‘attention’ to be?

Narratives around ‘the attention economy’, in the context of constant information overload, have become particularly prominent in recent years. This framing tells us to think of our attention as a resource: either put it to use, or someone else will. And that analysis can be helpful, for instance in pointing out serious social, political and economic issues arising from the constant competition to grab it. This is something I have written about in a previous post on this blog.

But, I argue in a new essay published in Aeon, it is crucial that we retain a clear sense not just of ‘attention-as-a-resource’, but also what I call ‘attention-as-experience’: an open, exploratory mode of attention, that is receptive to the here-and-now, in all its fullness, without any explicit agenda.

Both these modes of attention connect us to our outer environment. But the way they do so is very different. Something like ‘attention-as-experience’ needs to be part of the conversation because it is ultimately by paying attention in an open, exploratory way that we connect most deeply with each other, with works of art and with the natural world. Treating any of those as a means to an end only serves to undermine what it means to truly connect at all.


Image: In The Orchard by James Guthrie is in the public domain

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