Living And Dying In The Attention Economy

It doesn’t have to be so deadly

David Milgrim


Everybody wants to be seen. The drive is unavoidably hammered into our DNA. But capturing anyone’s attention, even for a moment, is quite the challenge these days. So, it’s no surprise to see the extremes people go to satisfy this hard-wired need.

Doods climbing up the side of a multi-story condo complex to demonstrate their spring break prowess. • Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Pulsing with an evolutionary mandate to earn our place in the safety and strength of the group, we are compelled to make a contribution.

Hipster ironically posting a dinner pic to his dog’s IG account. • Austin, TX

Without the automatic community that was naturally built into the prehistoric tribal life for which we were adapted, we have become a touch desperate. Perhaps, even more than a touch.

Man juggling snakes atop an alpaca. • Venice Beach, CA

With our amygdalas constantly freaking out that we’re about to be cast out and eaten by saber-tooth tigers, we scramble to increasingly obscure corners of notoriety. And alternative social groups.

Hot dog eating contest Gold Wiener winner with 77 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. • Coney Island, NY

So chronically unsatisfied is our basic need for attention that the underlying social mechanisms that give us the ability to make healthy connections can themselves become dangerously off-rail.

Blowhard discussing European travels even though no one has brought it up. • Toms River, NJ

We can too easily get stuck in ineffective behavioral loops.

Clueless grandma showing a stranger pictures of her 57 children and grandchildren. • Sioux Falls, SD

In some cases we can wind up sitting by ourselves, clambering for online fame. And even when we are “successful” there, the drive for face-to-face, tribalesque belonging is too specific to be satisfied by the love of adoring strangers and unembodied devotees.