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Over eleven billion notifications sent by the Android operating system to its billion users every day. Added to these are the notifications of emails, social networks, applications we have downloaded on our smartphone and all the instant messaging we exchange with acquaintances, colleagues, friends and family. James Williams’ insider reflection in his Get Away from the Light starts from here. Digital freedom and resistance (Effequ Edition). Williams, former Google strategist and philosopher trained at Oxford, guides us in reading our behavior in relation to devices, but above all in interpreting the rules of the attention economy of which we are all fundamental cogs.
The attention economy
If in recent years it has been said that data will be the oil of tomorrow in the global economy, Williams shifts his gaze elsewhere: not on the information that we leave online in our virtual lives, but rather on the time and above all on the attention that it is “stolen” from us.
The digital economy is based on this good, which we tend to give away for free, also believing in some way that we are exercising our freedom. In reality, we are immersed in “a vast project of industrialized persuasion” that competes to capture and exploit our attention. But attention is not free, “you pay for it in terms of the future you give up.”
The author gives concrete examples: you pay for the time you spend on social media with fewer hours of sleep, you pay for attention to the indignant post with patience and empathy, you pay for giving in to clickbait with anger for not having noticed the trap. Williams is succinct: “We pay attention with the lives we could have lived.”
Victims of functional distractions
The so-called functional distractions arrive precisely with notifications. The effects of interruptions are not, however, limited to the amount of time we waste dealing with them directly. When we are concentrated and are interrupted, it takes an average of twenty-three minutes to regain concentration. Added to this is the fact that notifications can bring with them information and communications that are not neutral for us and therefore, in addition to interrupting the flow of concentration, they also have an impact on our “inner space”. The author here borrows a metaphor from the philosopher Matthew Crawford to convey the idea: “Distractability can be considered the mental equivalent of obesity.”