It's Not Just Your Attention

Anthropologist Nick Seaver explains that attention isn’t just something that is ours to have or lose, it also reflects society’s values
“Attention doesn’t just happen in your head—it’s also a cultural phenomenon,” says Nick Seaver. Video: Steffan Hacker
September 18, 2019


What does it mean to pay attention? Nick Seaver, an assistant professor of anthropology at Tufts, says it’s a lot more than just how closely you follow, say, this sentence—or the thread of a conversation.

Attention tells us about our culture and our society’s norms. A century and a half ago, he says, a child might have been criticized for reading a book instead of being outdoors and productive; now a youngster might draw disapproving looks for viewing a video on YouTube instead of reading a book.

“The words we use to talk about attention often reveal what we value,” says Seaver.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at

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