#322 A Wealth of Information

Creates a Poverty of Attention

Herbert Simon won the Nobel Prize in Economics. He was one of the early thought leaders in the field of “attention economics.”

In 1971, he told us: “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

(This is worth a re-read and memorization: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”)

He also told us that all that information creates “a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Now, again, Simon told us that in 1971.


I wasn’t even born yet. TVs had a handful of stations. Phones had a rotary dial. Call waiting didn’t exist and neither did answering machines (imagine getting a busy signal or having the phone just ring and ring!). Your local newspaper was delivered to your door step. VHS hadn’t even been invented yet. We’re decades away from the internet and smartphones. In other words, we had a minuscule amount of information compared to today — yet there was ALREADY so much information that it was creating issues with our attention.

What would Simon say about our situation TODAY?

Obviously, he’d say we need to be EVEN MORE vigilant about efficiently allocating our attention among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it!

Now, here’s the thing. It’s easy to read that quote and say, “Wow. Yah. That guy was wise. So true.” And then go on utterly destroying our attention as we indiscriminately consume an astonishing amount of meaningless incoming data.

Recall that in The Checklist Manifesto we talked about the reasons we err. We have three basic reasons. 1. Necessary fallibility: Some things are just beyond our capacity; 2. Ignorance: Some times we just don’t know how to do something; and, 3. Ineptitude: Some times we KNOW what to do, we just don’t do it.

Today’s +1. I think it’s pretty safe to say we all know some things we *could* be doing to more wisely allocate our attention. So… What are they?

What’s ONE thing you know you *could* be doing to Optimize your attention?

Is today a good day to move from theory to practice on it? From ineptitude to mastery?


Let’s get control over the information flow and create a wealth of focused attention.

P.S. Cal Newport and Eric Barker say that being able to focus your attention and go deep is the superpower of the 21st century. Why? Because when nearly everyone is allowing their attention to get destroyed, those few of us who go in the opposite direction look like superheroes.

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