Investing Attention Essential to Viable Growth


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Radical Self-Reflexive Reappropriation of Financial Skills and Insights


Little needs to be said of the importance of the financial system and its intricate relationship to the growth of the global economy. The same can be said of the financial crisis to which the world has recently been witness. The following is however an exploration of the curious degree to which many terms framing engagement with the financial system, and the thinking involved, offer an alternative interpretation of potentially greater interest in this period. It might even be said that many financial terms are descriptive of cognitive processes initially recognized otherwise with respect to attention — processes now effectively “buried” in that restrictive usage.

The prime examples making the point are: interest and investment. In what does one invest one’s attention? What then is one’s “investment portfolio”? On what basis are decisions made to invest or disinvest? Framed in this way, upholding a set of values is indicative of a more generic investment portfolio — typically more evident through engagement in the preferred activities of daily life. This could even be seen as a chicken-and-egg situation. Which should be understood as a generative metaphor for the other?

The highly problematic operation of the financial system in this period, despite the degree of attention accorded to its processes, suggests that there is a critical disconnect between the nature of that attention and that required to recognize the risks incurred. This can perhaps be caricatured as an “inability to keep an eye on the ball”, as so questionably demonstrated by regulatory bodies and the self-acclaimed “masters of the universe” of Wall Street.

Could a more generic understanding of the terminology of investment engender unexplored possibilities of greater “interest”, and of greater “return on investment”? The argument is that a very considerable amount of creative thought has been invested in the tangible implications of finance — as reflected in the explosive development of the associated terminology.

Missing is any consideration of what this thinking might imply for forms of ongoing investment in intangibles of more direct relevance to quality of life — so challenged in this period for the “99%”. The question is whether a more generic understanding might shift the centre of gravity from the purely tangible material focus of economics to one of a more intangible nature of greater potential — of which the tangible is but a particular instance, implying a particular choice of investment. Can the language of finance be used to reinterpret the subtleties of investment of attention?

Although the intangible has been deprecated in past considerations of economics and finance with respect to the derivation of profit, the ongoing financial crisis has made it clear the degree to which there is dependence on the intangible — as evident in issues of confidence and trust. More surprising is the explicit recognition of the increasing importance of the so-called attention economy as a key to economic success in the global knowledge-based civilization of the future. This has major implications for the design of web interfaces through which investment attention is solicited (Ronald Rensink, The Management of Visual Attention in Graphic Displays, 2011).

Is there a continuum to be recognized between investing in the tangible (as more conventionally understood) and investing in the intangible through attention to it in some way?

Curiously this more generic framing suggests that everyone is in fact an “investor” — of attention. Most live — and even thrive — from “interest” generated by their “investments”. This of course implies that the “income” generated in this way is — for most — better framed by the term “psychic income“. From this perspective, the questions may be asked: what has one got to invest, and how much has one got to invest. To what does one give attention, and what is the return on that investment?

The argument is effectively an exploration of the extent to which attention as a scarce resource has been misappropriated by conventional thinking — and thereby trapped into modalities offering a lower return on investment in terms of quality of life. This is evident in the exploitation of susceptibility to illusion in the face of skilled presentations by advertisers, and politicians. Can global civilization be understood as heavily invested in attractive illusions — partially “spoiled” by revelation of systematic complicities associated with the financial crisis, diplomatic cable disclosures, use of torture by the intelligence agencies, and sexual abuse by clergy?

As framed, the question is whether the cognitive skills deployed can be radically re appropriated. The argument is itself an invitation to a speculative investment of attention — potentially offering a valuable return on investment.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 May 2014.

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