An airport lounge once felt rich with possibilities for spontaneous encounters. Even if we did not converse, our attention was free to alight upon one another and linger, or not. We encountered another person, even if in silence. Such encounters are always ambiguous, and their need for interpretation gives rise to a train of imaginings, often erotic. This is what makes cities exciting.
The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.
-- The cost of paying attention by Matthew Crawford.
Pretend you woke up tomorrow morning and someone took all the things you now pay for with attention and switched it to money. To spend time on Facebook, you would have to enter your credit card number. To check out what your friends are doing on Instagram, you would need to pull out that card again. How much time would you spend on Twitter then?
Social media is an easy target, but it provides a great example of how we don't associate our attention with a cost. We think of certain things as being free, but if it requires our attention, we're paying a price of sorts. What item on our to-do list didn't we complete because we spent an hour on Facebook? Did we miss an opportunity to spend time, in person, with a friend? Did we pass up the chance to take a continuing education course that we needed to stay current at work? Did we miss an important appointment because we lost track of time? I understand how simple this concept sounds, but in practice, we don't always realize we're making a trade.
Over the next week, I challenge you to ask one question before you do anything that seems free: If I had to pay $20 to do this, would I still do it? The price is high enough to make you think, but low enough that if you really want to do something, you'll feel comfortable saying "yes."
-- Carl Richards