Mode of Payment: Attention

Artwork featured by Joanna Ławniczak

“I think that our creativity is becoming more and more of a means to an end, and that end is to get attention.”

In 2019, 500 Days of Summer and Inception star Joseph Gordon-Levitt shared his experience of craving attention through the well-known platform, TED Talks.

The 13-minute lecture had the actor explaining how seeking attention makes a person less creative. As an actor, he said that he gets his fair share of attention and there would be times when he would seek, and worse, want said attention. He said that he felt the need to speak up because the more he goes after the feeling of seeking it, the unhappier he becomes.

“…it trains you to want that attention, to crave it, to feel stressed out when you are not getting enough of it.”

The actor clarified that he doesn’t believe that technology is the enemy of creativity. However, he said that one of the perils of creativity is the attention-driven business model of today’s biggest social media companies. This is a real addiction. “Being addicted to getting attention is just like being addicted to anything else. It’s never enough.”

In the 2020 Netflix Documentary called The Social Dilemma, people who have worked for said companies explained the dark side of social media: how every action we do is being tracked, monitored and recorded; how they use our own psychology against us; and, how we, as humans, could easily associate the attention we get, with value and truth, or worse, our self-worth.

And if that doesn’t scare you, well… tough luck. This is our reality now.

Like what Gordon-Levitt said, “the feeling on inadequacy is what drives you to post to get more attention. And that attention you get is what these companies sell, that’s how they make their money.”

If a well-known actor feels that way sometimes, I’m pretty sure others do too. This makes it both a relief and a problem. While it is quite reassuring to know that you are not alone feeling miserable, it is also worrisome to know that there are a lot of people, especially the youth, questioning their worth. And the fact that multi-billion dollar companies are gaining profit in expense of people’s self-worth and mental well-being, is absolutely disturbing.

“The goal is to be interested. Not interesting.”

Aside from being at the receiving end of it, Gordon-Levitt said that there is another powerful feeling that comes from the opposite of getting attention — that is to pay attention. Constantly paying attention and managing not to get distracted rather than seeking attention takes a lot of practice. This mental state is called Flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist, is best known as the architect of said phenomenon which, in layman’s terms, means “a state of complete immersion in an activity”, or to put in simply “being in the zone”.

To be interested sounds so easy. But it really isn’t. Different people also have different levels of patience and attention span. While these areas can be improved, it doesn’t take place overnight. It takes a lot of time and practice to actually be interested, and eventually, to master the art of paying attention.

Before ending his TED Talk, the actor shared a piece of advice: to see others not as competitors, but as collaborators. He noted that if people on the internet would stop competing for attention then it becomes a great place to find people you can collaborate with. A utopia of endless creative ideas, filled with people inspiring each other.

“Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.” – Lao Tzu

How craving attention makes you less creative (by Joseph Gordon-Levitt):

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