Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.
Fortunately, Mike Elgan called it to my attention in a column entitled “Work Ethic 2.0: Attention Control“. And, like me, Elgan reacts much more strongly to Brooks’s comment about control of attention than to anything he actually says about Gladwell’s book.
But Elgan’s concern is with what he sees as the “distraction virus” of the internet in general, and of social media in particular. I don’t dispute his observations, but I have a different take on Brooks’s point.
“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”
“I believe, that’s everything!”
What’s new is that attention is becoming a currency to rival the tangible goods we’ve usually thought of as scarce and valuable. But, as Brooks and Elgan note, it differs from money in its far more subjective nature.
A growing economy revolving around something money can’t buy, and which is subject to the vicissitudes of individual control. That certainly makes things interesting.