Saturday, March 7, 2015

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 26

“The Global Attention Deficit Economy”

A key life question for most humans is, "What do I attend to?" The answer to this question determines what is acted upon, individually and across society.

Human beings' capacity to pay attention is key to the flow of ideas. But attention cannot be manufactured like an economic commodity.

Two factors contribute to “the global attention deficit economy”… One is medical… One is digital.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a rapidly growing developed world diagnosis.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the number of U.S. children carrying the diagnosis of ADHD in 2011 had increased 50% since 2000, to 11% of those aged 4 to 17 years, or 6.4 million children. In 2013, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) accused all major ADHD drug makers of “false and misleading advertising” to parents, teachers and doctors.

Adults with trouble concentration at work or difficulties maintaining relationships are vulnerable, and are being diagnosed with ADHD at unprecedented rates. While childhood ADHD rates have recently plateaued, rapid continued adult ADHD growth is projected through 2020.

Recent revelations about pharmaceutical company marketing of expensive stimulant drugs to a growing population of ADHD adults raise troubling concerns. Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising on TV and social media creates confusing messages.

Express Scripts has calculated that adult ADHD diagnoses are up 50% from 2008 to 2012. In 2015, it’s estimated that 44% of all ADHD prescriptions will be filled by adults >18 years old.

The diagnosis of ADHD requires multiple medical assessments and clear-cut testing. But there is ample evidence that doctors in pill mills are pushing powerful drug prescriptions with minimal assessment and limited follow up.

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More video content is digitally uploaded to YouTube in one month than all that created by U.S. television networks in the past 65 years.

Each minute, 100 hours of video are uploaded with 1 billion views each month! What the New York Times editor puts on page 1 is de facto more important than what is found on page 7. But what gets the most YouTube views is much less obvious. Search engines like Google do not totally define or determine attention, but can draw attention to new solutions

Dr. Bernardo Huberman, Senior Fellow at Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs in Palo Alto, California relates big data platforms to what he calls "the attention economy". He articulates an emerging problem for humankind - "tuning in" to what is relevant in the digital world, while ignoring what is not. Dr. Huberman's team is working to understand how to draw attention to what is truly important on your computer monitor or smart phone screen... Clever screen solutions are still years off.

Since 2000, HP has converted the super-computing speed of four large mainframe cabinets to small "compute" components the size of a suitcase. HP projects that in less than ten years, hand-held smart phones will offer super-computing power. Given the rapid increase in global smart phone penetration, that is both amazing and frightening!

The Kaiser Foundation (2010) and Active Healthy Kids Canada (2012) have linked excessive hand-held device use in children & adolescents to ADHD and other developmental brain disorders. There are no such expert guidelines for device use in adults.

It is increasingly clear that ADHD is a conflation of global health and digital world challenges.

So, the next time you cross the Square, turn off your smart phone, and arrive attentive.   

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