Every few minutes my phone beeps. The tone tells me whether it’s a Facebook notification or a text message. If I’m playing hard to get, Mr Apple reminds me again by piercing my solitude with another little bleep. The blue dots on my email inbox sit patiently, alerting me to the presence of messages I haven’t read. As soon as I clear my dots, there’re three electronic pings and three more dots appear.
The red light on the home phone is flashing the number five. That means inside that little black box are five messages from someone who wants me to do something, answer something, pay something, go somewhere, tell them something. Voicemail tells me that my mobile has 38 recordings on messagebank. I’d play them but it’s going to take too long, and mean I’m going to have a whole bunch of things I’m either too late for or have to do immediately, so I just wait for them to expire and disappear into the digital abyss.
I click on my email: Jetstar are offering me weekend deals to fly to Melbourne; Stayz wants me to go to Fiji; Shopbop is showing me pictures of summer dresses for just $200; and Pinterest has some pins of funky wallpaper they’re certain I’m going to love. They know this because I’m always googling wallpaper.
The phone rings; this time I answer it. It’s American Express wanting to sell me life insurance. I tell the caller I can’t talk because I am in the car and hang up. A friend messages me on Facebook asking to meet tomorrow. I stumble across some comments on a post I made the day before and feel obliged to LIKE them. I am halfway through clicking on a comment when I remember I was supposed to be working.
I sat down to write this half an hour ago, but I haven’t had ten seconds without an interruption – not an insistent snot-nosed child bawling for a glass of milk or a bandaid, but a consistent digital tug on my cerebral cortex, asking me to ‘Look here. Buy this. Come here. Go there.’ It’s like being pecked to death by ducks. All this bombardment and I haven’t left my chair.
Everyone wants my attention. My attention is worth money. If you get my attention you might get my credit-card details. They’ve reached peak oil, logged our forests into deserts, so what resources are left to exploit? Attention. Our attention is the latest resource and is being aggressively mined by clever technology-adaptive capitalists.
Like oil, attention is also finite. There’s only so much attention one person can give in a day without significant environmental impacts. I sometimes imagine that my brain must look a bit like the Barrier Reef. Once bright and colourful and full of fish and snorkelling backpackers, now it’s bleached and lifeless. A dead sponge in a tepid sea of murky cerebral fluid. I try to pay attention, but I lose my way, and in the end I just pay.
I sign up for life insurance, just to get rid of American Express. But now I’m on the ‘sucker’ list so now they’re hitting me up for income insurance. I don’t seem to have a consistent stream of thought longer than five minutes. I am starting to think ADD – attention deficit disorder isn’t a disorder at all. It’s a normal consequence of continual attention harassment and subsequent harvesting.
Stuff beeps. Stuff bongs. Stuff pops up. Everywhere I look I am reminded of what I should buy, what I don’t have, how much better my life would be with a new car, new shoes, a replica Eames chair. I have brain fry. My attention is running out. I forget to feed the dog. One of the kids will be telling me something important. Like they got detention.
Or there’s a man at the door. I drift off. ‘Mum’ beeps my son. ‘There’s a man at the door.’ I go downstairs. ‘Good afternoon, Madam, my name is Jacob. I’d like to share the good news of God’s Kingdom. Do you have a few moments?’ Noooo!!!!!!