Considering The Cassandra Conundrum

In Greek mythology, Cassandra is a beautiful princess who is granted prophetic power after promising herself in marriage to Apollo. When she refuses to uphold her end of the bargain, Apollo grows furious and since he cannot retract his gift of foretelling the future, he curses her by ensuring no one shall ever believe her prophecies. This is the Cassandra.

This past week, writer Charlie Warzel published an opinion piece in the New York Times covering Michael Goldhaber, who is also known as the Cassandra of the Internet Age. The NYT piece chronicles a history of predictions Michael has made over the years about how our society would be rewired, along with our brains, as a result of the internet.  

A theoretical physicist by training, Michael had a realization in the 80’s that the rate of relevant information or data being produced for his consumption was overwhelming his capacity to ingest or comprehend. The key insight? We had reached a point at which human attention had become the most valuable asset in the world. The finite commodity of human attention would now be assaulted by an ever-growing arms race in which amplification and divisional markers create the crystalline boundaries of our attention.

Attention, as Michael points out, “is a zero-sum game” for humans (i.e., if you pay attention to one thing, you cannot pay attention to other things). This results in an incredible import of our purpose and intention of our attention. And for those who can garner the attention of others, power and riches await—just ask Donald Trump or Christiano Ronaldo. Thus, the attention economy is upon us and to ignore the maxim “Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention” is to be a sheeple amongst the flock.

So that begs the question, how do we maintain attention to our attention—kinda funny if it weren’t such a serious topic. Goldhaber suggests taking practical steps, such as re-evaluating your hobbies and habits in a way that takes into consideration the value of your attention in relation to your overarching personal goals, beliefs, and values. The fact that human attention is so valuable may explain the modern rise in meditation practice, as this is one activity where the goal is to focus your attention. 

For me, the daily practice of journaling is a simple tool to help organize my thoughts and bring my attention to those things which are of the utmost importance to me—thereby align my attention with the most important, over arching values of my life, and immediate tasks needing attention. 

The bottom line is, maintaining discipline and dedication to daily habits that keep you living in the present moment with your attention tuned to that which you want most in your life is the key to creating the world you desire most.