Attention: The precious currency we’re giving away for free

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Intellectual growth is in reverse. And it’s not a comment to the social or political situation or to the conditions of media, but a scientific fact. A study conducted by Norway's Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research is just the latest one that proves that our IQ is gradually going down.

We’ve managed to reverse the trend, called the Flynn effect, observed at the beginning of the 20th century of the rise of intelligence of about three IQ points per decade. 

The study shows that a turning point occurred with participants born after 1975; a drop of intelligence by seven IQ score points with each generation. To the authors of the research, the results clearly indicate that the reason behind it doesn’t have much to do with genetics, but rather with the environment. In other words, we’re building a stupidity-inducing culture that is making us gradually dumber.

Attention is the new currency

In the last few years, we experienced a few moments, which initiated huge changes that touched almost every aspect of our culture, and really, our lives. In 2004, Facebook was created and shortly after that, in 2005, the first video was uploaded to YouTube. In 2007, Steve Jobs proudly presented the first iPhone to the world. 

This article isn’t about Facebook or YouTube in particular. New business models and unlimited screen time have created new fortunes and a wave of new services financed by enthusiastic investors flooding the market. They are competing for something much more precious than money - our attention. This good has been distributed equally and we only have as much of it to use it for anything that benefits our brains: creative work, reading, social interactions. 

One of the most popular business models, based on serving ads, is strongly related to the time spent in an application. The more videos you watch on YouTube, the more ads you’ll see; the longer you scroll through Facebook or Instagram, the more sponsored posts will reach you. The race for watchtime triggers the race for the best tools that keep the user hooked to that particular service or application. The biggest players can afford to hire the smartest engineers and test the most sophisticated algorithms designed to grab and keep our attention. Let’s imagine that every time we tap the screen to log in, we face an army of the smartest engineers, data scientists, UX designers and neuroscientists that know exactly how to keep us scrolling.

Can we afford to pay the real price?

Unfortunately, the things that keep our brain attracted, are not ones we could call ambitious, inspiring or beneficial. It’s rather the opposite. As a result, we often spend hours every day, going through irrelevant, though attractive, content. We consume trivial news and gossip or meaningless photos. Local issues are pushing aside global problems, and radical or offensive political ideas become mainstream. It’s a game that every media outlet has to be playing in order to get anything of our attention cake. 

It just took a few years for the new tech and media giants to completely reshape our culture and, as it might turn out, our minds, too. Can we afford this expense in times of enormous  political, social and environmental challenges, when the need to build a conscious and wise society is more burning than ever?

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