Last week, I attended the chaos that is CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show). It’s a chance for companies around the world to display their latest and greatest in technology.
It is also, by every measure, one of the largest trade shows in the world.
Even though the event is purportedly about technology, in reality CES is the ultimate example of the value of human attention.
Booths hire magicians, models, chefs; cover every square inch with ever-animating screens and flashing lights; add music, loud noises, the occasional group cheers.
Attendees test AR devices to escape the chaos of CES 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by ROBYN... [+]
The only thing missing is more cowbell.
In truth, each of those flashing lights and loud beeps and tall models are there for one single reason: to attract more attention. Attention is the only currency to thrive on at CES. It is thoroughly an attention economy.
What happens at a trade show in Vegas … does not stay in Vegas. The desperate, flashy noise from these companies spill over into every corner of our lives. When CES is over, the attention currency they must pursue is yours.
Which means, as consumers, we should approach these new technological advancements with caution and insight. “New” and “smart” are not guaranteed to mean “better”.
Mindfully approaching a new purchase is a surprisingly deep topic, but there are three fundamental questions we should always ask before tapping the big yellow “Add to Cart” button.
Does it save your time?
That flashy new gadget promises to more conveniently track your running form out on a jog … but if jogging isn’t a part of your daily routine already, the device is unlikely to provide the motivation to do so (and certainly won’t save you the time you’ll need to actually add running to your schedule).
When evaluating a new purchase, especially a tech-oriented one, real time saved from the way you live your current schedule should be a primary consideration.
Does it preserve your energy?
Each time you have to make a decision, or hold a to-do item in your head to complete or check on later, your spending attentional energy. Depleted energy reserves means less available for the most important work (and people) in your life.
This is where technological advancements can really shine. The rote, mundane tasks that take energy to do and induce anxiety when forgotten (like, say, remembering to order more laundry detergent at the right time) are ripe for truly helpful tech solutions.
Does it open space for the relationships that matter?
For all of our cultural interest in the productivity and efficiency gains that the latest technology can bring us, we don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about why, exactly, it even matters.
And for most of us, the question of "why" is integrally linked with the "who": who are we doing all of this buying, installing and upgrading for?
Hopefully the answer to that question is immediately obvious to you, and hopefully you’re considering them (and even including them!) in the decision-making process.