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With The Increase In Screen Time, The Digital World Has Captured Our Attention

Attention! But you cannot stand at ease. Welcome to a digital cage by yours truly, the attention economy. In a digital work environment, it is daunting to move away from the devices, but it is best to limit screen time.

The world has fallen to its knees with the pandemic kicking in. The socioeconomic inequalities have increased over the last year. While the governments and organisations are figuring out how to manage the scarce resources to fight an invisible enemy, there is a fight over another scarce resource—our attention.

Over the past year, there has been a drastic change in people’s interaction with the online world. Attention can be defined as a selective focus on some of the stimuli that we are currently perceiving while ignoring other stimuli from the environment. Matthew Crawford says, “Attention is a resource—a person has only so much of it.”

Social media
Representative Image. (by Robert Cheaib from Pixabay)

The pandemic induced lockdown not only forced us to stay inside four walls but also trapped us in inescapable digital cages. If you use Instagram a lot, it is possible that you know which meme is trending. Or you know a verse of Good 4 U by Olivia Rodrigo. This is where the attention economy enters the picture and, it has been ever-growing.

The attention economy is said to be the management of the scarce resource called attention. On a 24 hour day, one person can only pay attention to so many, yet, few things. There is an overabundance of content and corporations are fighting for our attention all the time. In 2017, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings mentioned how one of their competitors is sleep.

It would be mind-boggling if someone could control our thoughts, actions and emotions; the attention economy or a digital space has that power to influence everything that we do.

The morning routine now would include checking emails, messages, memes and Twitter trends. Our commute from one place to another would consist of an endless scroll on Instagram and Facebook. Our daily outlook would be to check the phones every time there is a “ding” notifying us about a distant friend who posted about their coffee.

At that moment, all the applications will fight tooth and nail to keep the user engaged in an endless pool of content ranging from their favourite cake recipe to a political opinion or campaign.

Digital spaces, in general, use small and subtle tactics to keep the consumer hooked, anticipated and excited about what will come next. Corporations monetise a consumer’s engagement and click while there could be a significant drop in wellbeing. The reason behind a failed social media detox could be the very basic design of such platforms and our devices.

The red badges over applications stimulate an urgency, thus, making the consumer act in a jiffy. A small period when an application is refreshed builds anticipation in the minds of the user just like a slot machine. A trailer would play automatically as soon as Netflix is opened, it is simply to draw our attention to a new binge-worthy series which might also give dark circles since sleep is a competitor.

Representative Image. (by rawpixel.com from PxHere)

At the peak of the pandemic it was reported that due to work-from-home, online education and entertainment, the average screen time of Indians moved up by two additional hours. During these months social media platforms have tried their best to keep the masses hinged to their applications to fully monetise the attention of the consumers.

The same phenomena offered a chance to common folks and content creators to set their foot on various trends from coffee to dance moves.

On 29 June, the Government of India banned TikTok along with 58 other Chinese apps after the Galwan Valley clashes with Chinese troops. While TikTok was making the most of the attention economy, with its ban Instagram moved forward and launched “Reels” in July 2020 (in India). This feature is an endless scroll of short videos of 15 to 30 seconds duration and it was an attempt to accommodate the Indian TikTok users to this platform which has now become a package deal for social interaction, marketing, slacktivism, information dissemination, etc.

Another possibility in the race between TikTok and Instagram Reels is that reels might have not been able to serve the purpose of content creators who belonged to a weaker socioeconomic background. TikTok was able to give small and undoubtedly talented individuals space and a community of their own. Undoubtedly, the shift was slow for content creators.

But all is not so bad. Some would say that people consume the content out of their free will but it would not be wrong to say that platforms consume people in certain ways. At the end of the day platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Netflix, etc., boil down to their algorithms. They present a feed explicitly for their users. If a user likes a post about climate change, they’ll likely get an advertisement to buy a sustainable tote bag.

Moreover, the basic functioning of such platforms is to engage the user in an endless spiral and it is causing serious harm to human health and wellbeing. With extra time on their hands, users most definitely increased their time and participation in the attention economy since few other attractions of attention might have been placed out of the picture.

While weakening eyesight is one of the consequences, our mind never gets its “me time” to be alone with our thoughts, introspect and ideate. A significant effect could be seen on the general span of attention and the ability to focus on one task. Our attention is scarce and sacred. Each glance and engagement with the help of tactics ensure that someone’s pockets get deeper each second. 

What Can Be Done?

It is not too late to save our minds. Social media and the attention economy is an essential part of our lives but it doesn’t have to be our entire lives. The big tech companies need to be more ethical and take accountability for the harm that falls upon the users.

Recently, platforms have made changes. Instagram allows users to monitor their time activity and to diverge from counts of likes. In the meantime, attention economics can be used smartly to draw attention to important information like Covid-19 guidelines and other informative resources.

As for individuals, it is best to take breaks from the chaos of the attention economy and enjoy a sunset. Simplify the aesthetics of your devices, remove unnecessary notifications, give your attention to more meaningful ventures. Constant attention-grabbing content can worsen the mental turmoil and reduce attention span significantly.

Let’s not fall into an inescapable digital cage by yours truly, attention economy.

Featured Image by Lyncconf/flickr
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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