“The Currency for the Next Generation is Going to Be the Capacity to Pay Attention”

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of the new book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, speak at an event hosted by my local public library.

Eagleman devoted the bulk of his time to talking about his new book, his next book (Live Wired, an in-depth exploration of neuroplasticity) coming out next year, and the research he’s conducting in his Baylor lab about impulse control.

Eagleman’s work is fascinating, and he’s a compelling speaker. He shared one specific thought that I’ve been turning over in my mind all week.

He was fielding a question from the audience about the plasticity of the brain, and the impact the Age of Google was having on our attention spans these days. How does modern technology affect our brains?

Eagleman said that the brains of those growing up today in the digital age are wired differently than the brains of previous generations. It’s not fundamentally good or bad, but the change is evident. And then, his crucial observation: “The currency for the next generation is going to be the capacity to pay attention.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Eagleman’s observation this week. Is focus going to be the sought-after skill of Generation Z? Do I have the “capacity to pay attention” that Eagleman holds as so valuable?  How can I improve my own focusing skills?

Readers, what do you think?

PS. I love Eagleman’s book about synesthesia: Wednesday is Indigo Blue.



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  1. Amber @ neuronmommy.com says:

    I would have loved to have been there! I think anyone who uses digital mediums have neuroplasticity that is different than generations that don’t use it, or were never exposed to it. But most of us didn’t use computers, etc when we were kids, so it doesn’t surprise me that younger generations are experiencing a very different type of brain wiring. What concerns me the most about our new digital age is the ability to focus, but even more is the ability to “disconnect” and enjoy non-digital experiences. I think his point and my concern go hand and hand. Will our kids be able to turn off the tv, computer, iphone…and just read a book? I sure hope so!

  2. kimberly says:

    I have really been enjoying your posts…just now have had a moment to comment!

    I wish I could have been there,too… I find the brain quite interesting. I couldn’t agree more with your post.

    I think WE will have to be more attentive to services performed for us,too. Even now, at the checkout counters, the younger cashiers are often checking their phones…

  3. Mandi says:

    I am in the in-between generation, the twenty-somethings that didn’t have a lot of technology when we were very young but certainly have had it the past fifteen years or so. I wonder what it will be like for the toddlers that play on their parents iPhones for hours…

    Although I am always very surprised and happy to find out that young people are indeed reading (and young adult literatur is one of the only categories of books that has seen an increase in sales in recent years). I hope that trend keeps up.

  4. Lucky says:

    That’s fascinating. I work in a field where we have to spend long periods of time paying attention to minute things. It’s been really hard to train anyone just out of college (and I’m only 33 — not ancient!). I wonder if they’re just not wired for it.

    Also — your library sounds awesome.

  5. Linda says:

    I think the ability to pay attention to people will be a very in demand quality very soon. I’m finding more and more with the younger set that their gadgets have their full attention. There are many people who need someone (maybe just for simple assistance or maybe because of deep wounds). To pay attention and meet those needs will set a person apart from their peers.

  6. Kara says:

    I agree with Amber that it’s harder for the younger generations to “disconnect.”

    Mandi mentions YA book sales are increasing. I’m wondering if that is because so many adults are buying YA for themselves to read. Think about how many adults read twilight and The Hunger Games. (myself included 🙂 ) I also read “grownup” books but I think some just don’t have the attention span for adult books anymore.

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