To pay attention you must see things from the perspective of whoever is talking, or try to.
Thus if someone says, "I rode my bike home," you recognize, first of all that she is talking about herself, her bike, her home, even though you also refer to yourself as "I," to your bike as "my bike" and to where you live as "home."
But you go beyond that, by far, if you are to pay full attention. You must think about what this experience was like for her -- routine, adventuresome, scary, depressing, , quiet, noisy, speedy, slow and so forth? Is her home a happy or sad place? And where was she coming from? What does it mean to her now that she did this?
Even that is only the begining. If you really knew her well, there would be no end of nuance you could get from even a simple statement. Thus paying full attention is always an ideal, never to be completely reached. The more you know of her, the more you think alike, the more you can pick up from something as slight as a shrug.
In short, paying attention is turning your mind, reshaping it to fit the one you are focussed on.
The more you pay attention to someone, the more you have turned your mind to fit hers.
To pay attention you have to tune in, you have to be able to make sense of what is being said or done. Whoever is talking or acting wants you -- or someone -- to grasp what she is doing, and by that desire alone, paying attention to her has a different quality from paying attention to an inanimate object, which doesnt know or care that you might be paying attention. You are making a connection. Your attention makes a difference.
If you merely hear someone's words but don't get the meaning, and do nothing to rectify that, then you are hardly paying attention. You have to recognize that the person you are hearing is trying to convey something to you in order to be said to be paying attention at all. More than that, you have to "get" it or you're not paying attention. For that you must be at least somewhat on her wavelength. [If you see someone doing a pantomime and don't get that this is what she's doing, don't wonder about what is going on and try to figure it out, you are not paying attention at all, even though if you were watching a tree blowing in the wind doing similar things the level of attention you would be giving would be perfectly adequate. There is no connection made, unless you successfully convey to the mime that she is a failure.]
Doesn't this work the other way too? If no one begins to get what you're doing, if you get no attention for it, if no connection is made, then is it meaningful at all? How do you know you are not crazy, or hallucinating that people are there or simply completely mistaken about the idea that you are speaking in language or saying anything if nobody begins to get what it is that you do?
Meaning is conferred by others through paying attention. Without attention life is not meaningful.
You can be a big star, or a successful achiever in any field, but still feel that no one really understands you, that no one pays attention to what you really are or what you really want to express, perhaps because you are afraid to express it. In that case you get very little attention, or so it must feel. Your life is meaningless, since no meaning is conferred on it by others -- in ways that feel real to you.
In the attention economy, you obtain wealth, that is attention by expressing yourself, putting your real self forward as much as possible. Your property, what is proper to you, is what you can get attention for, and that you must put out in public. The more you gain attention for what you do, the more witnesses you have that what you want to say comes from you, that you have priority, and so by getting attention at the earliest possible moment for what you want to express, you retain attention and ownership of that attention. Any one who copies you is turning their audience over to you, and thereby doing you a favor. Even anyone who tries to malign you or distort what you are saying calls attention to you in the process.
--Michael H. Goldhaber / mgoldh.@well.com /8/15/96/