Yes, I’m asking you to reach into your deep pockets of time and consciousness and “pay” me some of your attention.
This expression is drilled into us by parents and teachers from the earliest days of conscious thought. Yet, almost because of this familiarity, it is easy to overlook its profound meaning and importance.
Attention, we are taught, is something we must pay. From what resources, though, do we draw our attention payments? From the limited time we have in a day, in an hour, in a moment. We pay attention by first listening, then focussing and considering. We pay also by not being intellectually lazy, by filtering and processing what we hear and see and formulating our own understanding.
In fact, understanding is one of the main benefits we get from paying attention. But shouldn’t we expect something more concrete and measurable from all of these payments made from our attention bank?
The key to answering this is, I believe, the concept of “paying it forward”. The “it” can be many things. Usually though, it refers to showing good faith, having compassion and being helpful towards another person in a proactive way – without the expectation of getting anything in return, but with the realization that one is setting in motion a chain reaction of giving. If everyone is paying it forward, then everyone will be enriched and benefit in some way.
Attention can be the “it” we pay forward. We can – and should – stop our busy, multi-tasking lives to pay a few minutes of our attention to understanding an important issue – however we define important. With this attention payment comes our own increased understanding, but also sets in motion an attention chain reaction from which we benefit.
This couldn’t be more true in the social media space where being helpful and adding value are the watchwords of the most successful users. In order to be effective online, you need to not only spend the time but also pay the required attention due in order to contribute something of value. And there is no immediate payoff for doing this. All you have is a collective learning process and perhaps a role in it.
Yet the benefits of being part of this process are significant for the individuals who participate. You meet people who can inspire your own learning process and help you understand better. You can demonstrate your subject matter expertise and passion, while showing what kind of a person you might be to work with.
No matter what you do, if you want to succeed online and build your social capital, you need to invest your most precious resource: your attention.