Attention at the Atlanta Airport

With a couple of hours to spare when I arrived at the “world’s busiest airport”, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, I headed through security and down to take the tram the nearly 3/4ths of a mile to my concourse when a surprise realization hit me that had to do with attention in the airport and attention to social media.

It turned out to be my good fortune that the tram was stuck temporarily and people stopped waiting and began to walk…by the hundreds…and so did I. As I moved down the aisle between the moving walkways I came upon some of the most spectacular stone sculpture I’ve ever seen.

Created by artists from the African nation of Zimbabwe, it was, at times, emotional to view them. An example is the photo of one you see at the lower left which is representative of dying-of-AIDS parents with the symbolic child clinging to them. If you’re aware of the horrific HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and the millions of orphans being left behind, you couldn’t look at this sculpture without feeling its power and how evocative it is of the crisis…and think of those little spirits left behind and alone.

What I understood but still found curious, is that of the hundreds of people moving past these sculptures roughly six of us took any time to view them and most paid no attention (of course, people had flights to catch and were in a hurry but I had the time to wander).

Since I’d just completed a talk that morning on social media for all of the business unit leaders of a large private corporation’s strategic conference — a talk where attention, continuous partial attention, and the participation culture were key themes — my observation of people not having the time nor interest in paying attention to sculpture so atypical, hard to ignore, emotionally moving and just plain gorgeous, caused me to ponder the parallels as I continued moving toward my gate.

Every single day I’m presented with powerful, emotional, intellectually stimulating and attention-grabbing content (blog posts, videos, and new changing-the-world type sites) but too often feel the paradox of choice (from Barry Schwartz’ Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less) and experience stress, an inclination to shut down and turn off, and often feel overwhelmed instead of energized emotionally, refreshed and intellectually stimulated like I did when viewing these sculptures.

If you’re blogging, creating products and services for the participation culture or leveraging social media in any way — or just trying to get attention from the masses either faced with that same paradox of choice or just too focused on something else to pay your creations any mind — realize what you’re faced with in a time when even powerful, moving and attention-grabbing sculpture sees people by the hundreds just walking on by fast and furious without paying any attention and figure out new ways to get more people to just stop, look and see.

I’m delighted by ImprovEverywhere and the pranks they pull. Or the Free Hugs guy that walked around with a sign “free hugs” and people did it and ended up delighted (well, most anyway). I look like “a suit” and was dressed like an executive so if I’d screamed “hey….look at this amazing sculpture” to the hundreds racing by I probably wouldn’t have been arrested, but part of me wanted to do so to get people to just stop…even for a moment.

Could that urge….that perspective….that recognition these groups (and I felt) had be turned into something to be used by you to get attention? Yes, but only if done so in an authentic way that fits with the values you hold or that your organization espouses.

Here are a few stories to get you thinking about authentic attention grabbing:

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.