Initiative :
Paying Attention

This initiative is about understanding how we pay attention, why that matters more than ever economically and politically, and what follows for our lived experience and capacity to shape the world.


The ‘attention economy’ is now the front line of where our cultural, economic and political worlds are created. And in an age of ‘surveillance capitalism’, this means that corporations and political parties can now harness Big Data coupled with immensely powerful algorithms in order to influence our choices and decisions: what we give attention to, what we choose to buy, who we choose to vote for.


Yet, paying attention is an intensely intimate and important matter that defines our experience of being human. So it is a matter of fundamental concern that our ability to pay attention is under threat, with worrying implications for humanity. Building on the work of Matthew Crawford, James Williams, Iain McGilchrist and others, the programme will consider the role of consumer technologies, artificial intelligence and data in shaping how we figuratively and increasingly literally ‘pay attention’.


As the battle for our attention takes place, we find our attention is more fragmented than ever. While this has very real implications for mental health, it also challenges us at a deeper, spiritual level to shape our lives, set our own goals, and “want what we want to want” as the Philosopher Harry Frankfurt puts it.


There is also a concern that being increasingly distracted through information targeted directly at our habitual self-interest will make it harder for people to think socially and ecologically, precisely when these sensibilities beyond the self are most needed.


We will explore ways to navigate ways out of this predicament at personal and political levels. For instance, the links between paying attention and living a meaningful life; the place of contemplative practice in cultivating attention; and the roles that different political and economic actors in the attention economy could play to help bring about a world which respects and protects, rather than exploits, human attention.


This initiative is led by Dan Nixon.


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