Attention is Currency

How much are you wiling to spend?

By Phil Wagler

My four-year-old called me to attention. I was with him—I think waiting for him to finish going to the bathroom—when he pointedly declared, “Dad, you’re always on your phone.” You see, I had taken that space in time while he did his job to peer into my device. Again.

His statement was an intervention. His words cut deep. Beyond what he was observing about my mobile-attachments he was really saying this: “Dad, do you realize you’re with me, your own flesh and blood, and I am actually in the room? Do you realize that I love what little time I have with you, even if I am taking a pee, and I think you’re awesome? Seriously, pay attention, Dad, is that other person really more important than me right now?”

He had me. And, I knew I had become at least a borderline addict because of the excuses that lined up in my brain. I wanted to blurt them out, but they were lame and he was right. He trotted off to play, a test to see if I would follow I think, as I wrestled with my anti-social behaviour.

I’ve had two tickets for operating a mobile device while driving. Dumb. I argue they were both completely innocent and a clear proof of Murphy’s Law, but that didn’t fly with the cop either. Two chunks of substantial coin and enduring the dreaded spousal stare have mostly weaned me off the phone in the vehicle. So, now I enjoy honking at others when they’re in cyberspace as they drift into my lane. Oh, the joys of those set mostly free!

Does this sound at all familiar? Have you been where I was—and still sometimes am?

Everywhere you go these days people are gazing at a very small world. Sure, it’s a portal to endless information and people we need and “need” to keep in touch with, but is this really what we’ve been made for? And, isn’t this world in an app lacking something?

So, I have now been called out twice in regards to my use of devices: by the RCMP and my little boy. The law hit my pocketbook, but my son’s words hit harder. I’m not alone among drivers who slip up from time to time—even out of necessity—but I am alone as the father of this child.

Then, as I pondered all this I’m driving along in my truck—honestly not using my phone—listening to a debate about how texting, phoning and social media have robbed us of the ability to actually relate to the people in our immediate presence.

“Attention is currency” coined one of the radio-heads and it suddenly struck me, “He’s right!” The attention we give to another is the medium of exchange for healthy relationships and the reality is that I am very often giving attention to the inanimate, to short bursts of attention-less communication punctuated with LOLs, BTWs and #s, and to more information than I can even process while exchanging real life with those in my closest sphere of influence often seems bothersome.

I am beginning to wonder if our love of the device and social media is really about escape. Or, is it simply a way of exchange without attention.

And then, as a disciple of Jesus, I must think about this theologically. I am struck by the way the Scriptures speak of God’s exchange with us. Psalm 139 tells us that the Lord searches us, knows us, that we cannot escape His presence, and that He even paid attention to us in the womb.

The same Psalm has the believer, like my little guy did with me, inviting God’s attention: “Search me, God, and know my heart…” (Psalm 139:23). Something tells me He has no need to make excuses.

I wonder what might happen to our anti-social, device-addicted, distracted lives if we really saw “attention as currency” this way? And, I wonder what an audit of our attention would reveal? I know a four-year-old well equipped for the task.

PHIL WAGLER is a pastor in Surrey, BC, a child of God because the Father paid attention to him, and is loving the discipline of paying more close attention to his non-screen world.