Lots of people seem to be talking about the attention crisis lately. There’s so much out there to pay attention to that nobody has enough time to pay attention to everything they’re interested in. The attention I pay to feeds I subscribe to waxes and wanes regularly. Sometimes I page through them hardly reading anything, other times I page through them sort of paying attention. I’ve never been one to carefully read much of anything, especially on the first pass.
Anyway, I can cope with the fact that there’s too much stuff out there to give my attention to everything that I might want to. I’d love to read the New Yorker and Economist and New York Review of Books and the local paper, and the list of books I’d like to read but haven’t even picked up is staggering. Then there’s the canon of great movies that I’d like to see someday, and all of the musicians I’ll never listen to, and the list goes on and on. Then there’s the stuff I’m drawn to like a moth to a flame that I regard as a total waste of time. I’m a sucker for repeats of certain TV shows and computer games and certain gossipy web sites and every minute I spend on those things is a minute I don’t do something I probably should be doing.
What really gets to me, though, is how hard it is to become well-informed on a subject and how easy it is to offer your opinion as though you’re well-informed on a subject. As bad as being spread to thin is, what’s worse is coming to accept the level of ignorance at which we all inevitably operate. Pick any important topic, think about it, and you realize that there is no such thing as being fully informed. Take the Wal-Mart memo on health insurance costs that was in the news last week. I’ve read several articles on it, all of which make some sense to me. And that’s one memo from one company. When you expand that to health insurance or to the even larger topic of health care, you realize that humility is indicated.
And yet what the world is really full of is people on TV shows, or weblogs, or in newspapers giving what sound like authoritative opinions on topics that they don’t really understand. How much of our attention do we spend on that sort of thing? Thinking about this information deficit has put me off writing about many topics. I don’t want to be one more voice offering “solutions” to problems that I don’t fully comprehend. I’d rather stick to writing about things I do know a lot about (developing Web applications) and pointing to good writing that inform rather than argue, and I try to spend my scarce attention on those things rather than on punditry.