The Attention Ecosystem

Inside your phone is a lies an garden of apps, an ecosystem curated to you by you, but an ecosystem that has one singular source of nourishment: you. Your time, your engagement, your information are all valuable resources for each and every one of those apps, without you they wouldn’t exist.

Like the sun shining down and providing the energy needed to sustain life on Earth, your face is a beacon of light and primary energy source for each of these apps. However, unlike the sun, your time with them is limited and can mostly be used on a one by one basis, and sometimes neglected all together when you’re spending time away from the screen. In short, unlike the sun, you are a scarce resource, and whenever an ecosystem can only survive on a singular scarce resource competition is inevitable.

Through competition these apps are forced to evolve and develop new tactics to hold your attention as long as possible. Each and every single one of them must adapt or perish, creating an arms race. Maybe the app begins filling your phone with notifications to remind you of a new status update, or by consolidating all your communications to one messenger, or create reward systems via refreshing the page to show you new things that you’re guaranteed to like. Like biology each one has developed a means to survive in a an every growing ecosystem.

Think of the apps on your phone, which ones take most of your time? Are they necessary? And if so are they needed to the extent of which you use them? Do you enjoy using the ones that aren’t necessary? How often do you use them? Apps are like food, you can eat whatever you want but it’s great to keep your diet well balanced.

Think of your phone as a garden and you are the gardener, you have complete control over what you plant in it and what you decide to eat. It is your job to maintain a healthy information diet, and I don’t doubt that you do, however at times it can be easy to over indulge in less healthy meals. They taste good, that’s fine, but like sweets if you consume too much you might be happy in the moment, but not in the long run. So maintain your garden and your meals to support a more balance diet. Perhaps you set up apps like BlockSite or Cold Turkey to prevent yourself from accidentally indulging during pre-determined hours, or maybe you only access one service through the web browser only instead of providing a space in your garden for it to grow. Maybe you see your indulgence might be getting out of hand and it’s time for a fast or diet plan.

Your phone is a wonderful ecosystem of amazing apps developed by brilliant people to give you the experience you want. However, like all ecosystems competition is inevitable, especially when given a singular scarce resource like your own attention. Be the gardener of your own ecosystem, but beware that if you don’t attempt to take control of it, your garden will become overrun and taking you with it.

We only have so much time in the day, make sure you’re the one deciding how you want to spend it.

This essay was inspired by CGP Grey’s video essay “Thinking About Attention", Hello Internet Episode 108 “Project Cyclops.” If you are interested in ways to tend to your garden in a healthy manner, or are worried you’re over indulging on certain apps, I highly recommend you check out Time Well Spent. Time Well Spent is an ongoing project to promote human centered design and make your phone work for you in a symbiotic relationship, instead of competing for you.


Day 17

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