The Importance of Attention II: The Car Buyer

Consider a driving enthusiast who ploughs all his savings into the shiny new sports car of his dreams. Walking towards the vehicle in the car park, he admires the elegance of its flowing lines, the masculinity of its meaty grill and flared wheel arches, and the promise of speed in its oversized alloy wheels and its low-sitting chassis. His pulse starts to pick up and his throat dries. He opens the broad door and swings into the leather sports seats. The precision instruments on the dashboard light up and the engine burst into action life at the touch of a button. He caresses the accelerator with the toe of his shoe; the vibration charges through his frame and a powerful roar seems to come from three directions simultaneously. “Yes,” he gushes, “worth every penny.” Then he drives off. He appreciates the responsive steering as he carefully avoids the badly-parked car opposite. He accelerates down the alley of obviously inferior vehicles just for the hell of it and pulls out into the street. Another quick burst of the accelerator – wow – but he is not quick enough to beat the lights. There is a cyclist ahead of him anyway, and one needs to be careful because they always seem to do the strangest things. A lady in an SUV pulls up alongside. She is in deep conversation on her mobile phone. He remembers that he too has a call to make, but it will wait until he gets to the office. He is not looking forward to explaining to his wife that he must work late again this evening, but if he doesn’t deliver some better numbers this month that creep Parker will nail the promotion for sure…

Sadly, our attention is not a faithful companion who keeps a solemn vigil over anything we want it to. It is rather a philanderer who will readily sneak off to eavesdrop on the conversation of a group of giggling teenagers; it will throw itself into a plunging neckline or wrap itself around a muscular torso; and bask for a while in the aroma of freshly-baked pastries. The truth is that much of our attention is directed unintentionally. Our attention finds value in these distractions, but is completely indifferent to their monetary cost. This means that it is single grey hair that easily attracts attention, not the costly coiffure that surrounds it; the stray sock, not the Santos mahogany floor; the patch of dry skin, not the expensive manicure.  For our car buyer, it didn’t take long for his attention to be lured away by things that were new, unfamiliar, unusual, colourful, dramatic, or sexy and away from things that might have a higher monetary value. In that moment, the shiny new car stopped making him happy.

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