Your attention is a precious resource. Many people want some of it. They want to persuade you to adopt an opinion; they want to sell you something; they want to entertain you (long enough to sell you something).
Many of the people vying for your attention are professional, highly trained, highly skilled persuaders. Some have full-time staff devoted to grabbing and keeping your attention. And they may not have your best interest in mind.
In a world where information and entertainment choices are growing exponentially, how do you decide what’s worthy of your attention? How do you distinguish the valuable from the nonsense? You don’t have time to research everyone’s credibility. You need some heuristics to save you some time.
Below are some things you might consider when evaluating how to spend your attention:
- What is this person’s incentive? Does persuading me (or keeping my attention while an advertiser can attempt to persuade me) affect their bank account either directly or indirectly?
- Is this person asking me to apply reason? Or do they want me to react emotionally?
- Is this person emphasizing our differences and asking me to think in terms of us vs. them? Or is this person emphasizing our similarities and asking me to cooperate? One favorite tactic of infotainers is to divide people into groups, label them, and then pit them against one another. It sounds like this: “Group x believes ABC” or “group y wants to xyz”.
- Is this person screaming? Or are they speaking calmly and rationally?
- Is this person encouraging me to be a better, stronger, higher character person? Or is this person appealing to my base animal instinct?
- Does this person claim to speak for some other person or organization? If so, are they self-appointed?
- Does this person have any expertise on the subject in question?
- Does this person want me to feel empowered – able to help myself and others? Or do they want me to feel like a helpless victim whose problems are somebody else’s fault?
The next time you find your TV tuned to the news (although it applies to radio, magazines, newspapers, and the interwebs, too), ask yourself these questions.