Your attention is the most valuable resource in the world.
It determines your destiny, your accomplishments, even the life you live. And companies spend billions and billions of dollars every day to capture it.
That’s right. Your attention is bought and sold every single day by people you’ve never met.
It is bought by large, multinational conglomerates. It is bought by the local neighborhood pizza joint down the street. And every sized business in-between.
Your attention is the most valuable resource in the world to both you and anybody, anywhere, trying to sell you anything.
Advertising is, essentially, the buying of your attention.
Marketers will pay buckets of cash for ad space on websites, airwaves, billboards, pages, bus stops, stadium scoreboards… almost anywhere your eyes will be focused, marketers will seek to place an ad or a logo.
Why? Simple, they want your attention, even if for a brief second.
Their pursuit of our attention is to be expected I suppose. If someone has something to sell us, and a dollar to be made from it, they will work hard to get that product in front of us.
Not only will they send emails and junk mail, put up billboards and place radio ads, they’ll even inject their products in the shows we watch and the video games we play. Literally buying ads anywhere and everywhere they can.
If they can collect our attention, they can sell us something.
But for every buyer, there must be a seller. And there must be a product to be purchased.
The buyer is the marketer.
The product is you.
And the seller? The seller is often times the person or entity you trust the most—selling your attention to the higher bidder.
Scrolling Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Tik-tok? That sponsored post that just showed up in your feed? That’s your favorite social media site selling access to you for a dollar—and not just access, but your personal data as well.
Just run a Google search and the first four items on the Results page say “Ad”? That’s not Google returning the four best, most reliable answers to your question. That’s Google selling you, your attention, and your intention, to whoever sent them the most money to show up on your screen.
That website you like to visit that is filled with ads and pop-up videos that automatically play every time you click on it? You’re the one being marketed.
That free app you love to play on your phone with the ads across the top or in-between levels? Yup, they’re selling you.
Of course, this extends beyond the digital world. In fact, the digital world is pretty new to the game.
That radio talk show you love so much? They are selling your attention every time they cut to a commercial break or product announcement.
That sports league you love so much? They sold you, 30-seconds at a time, to the highest bidder too (probably a beer or fast food company).
That celebrity posting pictures of her favorite make-up or blender? Selling you.
That newspaper you love… that magazine you like… that harmless television show with singers in masks… even that government run mass transit system you ride each day. All of them, they sold your attention for a profit.
Every time you see an ad, just remember, you are the commodity being bought and sold. There is a buyer… there is a seller… and there is a product changing hands—you.
The most valuable resource you own, your attention, being sold for pennies.
Hi, I agree a lot with what you are saying and have also learnt a bit about advertising in the past year or so which has been an eye-opener to say the least. However, I struggle because I’m a musician and I do want to share my music to encourage others and share the hope I’ve found in Jesus, however, I hate the idea of buying someones attention or distracting people from what really matters. As you post regularly, what advice would you give someone who wants to share their content but in a way that is ethical and respectful of others?
P.S I really like your content and have been realising life is a lot more freeing when you live with less. However, I’m also realising how distracted I get from the things I value.
Max Arnold says
Great post, Joshua.
Your posts always are so fluffy and creamy, about caring more, loving more, and it’s sweet. It’s really good to read from someone who truly means such beautiful ideas. But sometimes, a little bit of crude reality and some fear really make the deal! This post is one of the most engaging and motivating I’ve read at your blog…
I’ve seen people here in the comments trying to look for a solution to the problem… sadly, there is still little, or none. (Or maybe, they want us to think ads are eminent and impossible to remove)
Like you said, using an adblock extention is great, and some of them would even block youtube ads. But as to talk radio ads, or analog TV ads, there’s really not much we can do… I hope that changes soon.
Elisa Trivanovich says
Yes, I know the problem, but is there a realistic solution? When digital communication is so prevalent in everyday life. I take multiple breaks from the phone. But then fall into the FB rabbit hole to “see” friends I haven’t seen in nearly a year. I also find it interesting that an ad popped up for your free book. How do we minimize our digital presence?
Adblocks are a big help here. I dont see any ads on facebook or pretty much any website now. Youtube however, is still a problem. So much so that its fast becoming unwatchable due to the very intrusive and unskippable ads. I refuse to pay for a service i was previously getting for free just to stop seeing ads. Instead, i have now removed the app.
In the past few years out of necessity – I had to down size my life – during that time period I removed most technology devices (cell phones, computers, games, t.v., etc.) and kept the radio alarm clock (;o). I started noticing the World around me so much more, esp. without a cell phone! Thank you for this article – most people acted like I was “insane” for not owning or wanting a cell phone. I totally enjoy this article – i am living proof that we “wake up” when not so reliant on technology – YES it is nice to have and use but not as the current controlling addiction on Earth as it is today. 000
JULIET MARY WOOD says
I knew all this but I really need to be reminded regularly and the way you phrase it really helps me, so once again many thanks Joshua. I battle against ads, it’s not easy for me to ignore them. On Instagram I have a folder named Promoted Stuff and when I see something I like I put it in that collection. Mostly I forget about it. Lucky for me I don’t like Facebook and Tik tok is a noise clocks make. I absolutely get Minimalism because of you but I have a hard time putting in the work!
We are now living in the attention economy. Great read Joshua.
Maria L Pinto says
Although our local libraries are open for curbside pickup I do miss being able to go in. They have books & magazines for sale that people donate. The first thing I do when I get home is tear our as many adds in the magazines that are two sided. Then I enjoy it! Oh yes & they only cost .25 cents.
I thought I was the only one who tears out those pesky ads, the drug companies are the worst!
That’s another reason I love this blog! Try reading another blog- it’s almost impossible between all the ads crammed in the small space.
Makes my eyes and head hurt.
Thanks Joshua for keeping this blog reader friendly and not making money off selling ads! :)
Vanesssa King says
I agree. I love this blog because there are no ads, lots of white space and clear text. It’s not stressful on the eyes or the mind.
One of the best articles I’ve read this year. This one is staying in my Inbox to remind myself how valuable my attention really is and to choose wisely where I spend it.
Maria L Pinto says
Sorry Joshua I got your name wrong. This subject is so important to talk about.
Maria L Pinto says
Good point Jonathan also about mass transit. I lived in the SF Bay Area for years & rode on Bart a lot. They advertised cars inside the trains of all things. That is insane, & goes against what mass transit is all about. Getting people out of their cars!
Maria L Pinto says
Good point Stacey. The Pharmaceutical Companies are for the most part Drug Pushers, and unfortunately many doctors get kickbacks prescribing more drugs, many of which are Opiods.
More people are looking toward Holistic/Herbal Medicines like our ancestors did before Big Pharma came into the picture. They have no shame but the good news is they are being exposed & people realize they have choices.
I loved this one. Thank you ??
This article is in the Top 3 of the thousands of articles read this year (and I can’t remember the other two!).
It shows the root of the consumerism and the cause of our self-wasting behaviour. I will share it with my friends and relatives – they /we all are in a great need to decluttering and changing our shopping patterns.
Keep up the good work! … And Happy Holidays!
Greetings from Romania!
Cate Wilson says
I have wondered even if you look at an ad does that get recorded in some way. I notice if I order something or search for an item then ads pop up about the same item.. annoying to be the consumer item. Brought and sold.
It sounds like you must have watched the Netflix docudrama “The Social Dilemma”. It’s a must see for everyone! Very eye opening.
joshua becker says
I have not watched the Social Dilemma, but probably will at some point. Many, many years ago I asked a blogger why he didn’t have ads on his site. He said, “Because ads are basically selling my reader’s attention.” That conversation formed the basis for this post. And as holiday ads reach a fever-pitch everywhere I look, I decided to write it now.
Virginia Kharel says
Im sick of being targeted or influenced by influencers. Ive spent 100s of dollars in last few years out of boredom and loneliness. Im loving Becoming Minimalist. Great article
Terrific article that makes me think critically about the ads i see. Thanks a lot!
Theresa L Vondra says
I very much enjoy your writing and what I learn on your blog. This is a great reminder to be purposeful about how we spend our time. It is so easy to get pulled in. Thank you!
Aileen Padberg says
Dear Mr. Becker,
We thank you for your continued support on helping people claim their life back, protect it, and live it free from burdens of distractions. Provided I have followed the netflix docu-movies such as Social Dilemma, Great Hack, Minimalists are attention openers to why Minimalism is relevant and healthy life style. Thank you for walking me through the years of great transformation, my then 6 year old daughter is now 10. We are benefiting so much this walk in life with minimalism psychologically, emotionally, and life-fully.
Aileen and Andrea
When I feel myself being affected by marketing and ads, I say to myself or out loud “Advertising Works.” This has helped me to move on. But I appreciate the additional perspective you offered, “our attention is being bought.” Even if I don’t buy a single product that day, my attention is being distracted from what matters most. Great post.
Stacy Chiarello says
Hi Joshua….Another sell is from Pharmaceutical companies. Every magazine has up to 40-50 full page ads and some 3-4 page ‘sagas’. TV commercials trying to get you to identify with the sick folks they are portraying. Ask your doctor about our great meds, they say. I really enjoy your channel and your blog/emails. Thanks for your effort and time. ….And that negative comment was an energy drain! Seriously. All the BEST to you & your lovely family in the coming new year……Stacy
Stacy Chiarello says
Hi Joshua….Another sell is from Pharmaceutical companies. Every magazine has up to 40-50 full page ads and some 3-4 pages sagas. TV commercials trying to get you to identify with the sick folks they are portraying. Ask your doctor about our great meds, they say. I really enjoy your channel and your blog/emails. Thanks for your effort and time. ….And that negative comment was an energy drain! Seriously. All the BEST to you & your lovely family in the coming new year……Stacy
How an I opt out of being sold?
joshua becker says
There are definitely some things you can do: unsubscribe from email newsletters, turn off your television, install ad blockers on your browser, visit websites with fewer ads :). But you can’t remove yourself entirely. In that case, I think it’s helpful to notice what is happening so the messages can be better discerned.
Sue Holthaus says
My brother is in internet marketing. We were talking yesterday about another interesting aspect of this – eye movement. Your system and smart TV track eye movement to specifically see what you’re paying attention to, and then target advertising. Also watching how long you pause on an add in FB (example) to gather your interest. I’ve said for a long time that the biased media is entirely about selling you products by presenting news in a way that hooks you. It’s sad. Now, what do we do about it. By the way, love the pop up add on this site offering to sell me your book…. :-)
Jean Pawlus says
Thanks to a message from a niece some time ago , I am becoming more minimalist aware.
Thanks for your message.
However as Your Message today went on and on and on AND ON, I was tempted to do what I do with other “advertising”. Turn it off!!
I get it Enough already.
I’d be interested in your response.
joshua becker says
You’re interested in my response to a negative comment about not being happy with my writing? How exactly do you expect someone to respond? I’d encourage you to go find a writer whose writing you do resonate with, simple enough. Sometimes you can move on without leaving a negative impression. That is my response.
Geesh! I couldn’t agree more Josh. How assanine is that comment. Dude could have saved that. I really enjoy the daily doses of understanding you give. Thanks a lot!
i remember when my children were toddlers and they always wanted something like a coke t-shirt or a particular brand of of somethingorother and i always told them that those should be free from the manufacturer – when you wear it you’re a walking bill board! things are so much more in your face now – thank you for pointing this out again
I feel it’s many years since I was drawn in.
Never look at ads, when they come on it’s time for a cup of tea in my house.
However, thank you for bringing this to my attention, seems a bit ironic.
Always need to be mindful.
Great post Joshua
Chintan Taunk says
That is quite an insightful observation. Nice to know. Will be mindful of it now.