An economy which rewards those who capture the most attention has given rise to manipulative technologies, invasive advertising, and manufactured outrage. Attention activists resist this exploitation through innovation, regulation, ethics, leadership, education and mindfulness.

Yes, you heard that right - mindfulness. We need systems change, but we also need to reclaim choice as individuals. We can train our minds for a freedom of attention in waking life. In a culture where ads and apps compete to influence you, the pursuit of mental clarity has become a subversive act.

- Jay Vidyarthi

inverting the power dynamic

I spent this week at Educator's Summit in Philadelphia, an annual conference for teachers and school leaders to discuss the character development of their students. It was super inspiring, not just because of great speakers and fascinating insights. Also because I had the opportunity to teach 20 engaged high-schoolers on how to facilitate design workshops as part of my work with Character Lab.

I'm feeling really inspired, because these kids were amazing. I spent the better part of a day running them through a workshop and training them how to be facilitators. Then I threw them in the deep end. The very next day, they each led sessions on their own with a partner. These 15-18 year olds were in charge of groups of 10+ teachers and school leaders each, and they nailed it! It was a joy to watch these kids in charge of groups of adults.

At one point I heard one of these kids call out a group of adults for chatting amongst themselves, trying to get them back to the task at hand. Another teen pointed out how frustrating it was when she saw a few adults pulling out their phone in the middle of the workshop. Then she exclaimed, "oh, that's what it feels like!" and everyone laughed. Many of the teens were guiding the conversation and asking insightful conversations, engaging adults to think more deeply about the task at hand.

Afterward at our debriefing session, kids and adults had a ton to say about what it felt like to invert their typical power dynamic. Kids were feeling empathy for their teachers on how hard it is to lead a group. They also felt it was uncanny to interact with their school leadership as people. Some found it refreshing to see their teachers as fellow students, as here they were at the conference trying to become better at what they do. They also pointed out how rare it was for them to be trusted in leadership roles, and so they felt engaged and excited to show the adults how capable they were. And capable, they were.

The adults were reflecting on how well these kids did when we put them on the spot, and wondering why we don't open up to their voices more often. They were shocked to hear the great ideas coming from their own students about how to do things better in the school context. I heard a lot of talk about how we should bring students into discussions about curriculum, school structure, and use of facilities. Many of the adults had their minds opened about just how capable some of their students actually are.

There was a fair bit of shock in the room when one student stood up and expressed her surprise to learn that her teachers care about her well-being. The adults were confused as to why this was so surprising,"don't they know we care about them?" I heard a number of ideas on how schools could offer more explicit emotional support and show outward signs that they care about these kids as holistic human beings.

For me, it was amazing to see these kids organically raise complex conversations about diversity and mental health. They are so open and direct when it comes to conversations adults often find challenging. They were casual and fun but were able to focus and engage when needed. They were not zombies addicted to instagram. On the contrary, I never saw any of them pull out a phone, and in fact, they spontaneously expressed concern about tech's impact on mental health as part of the workshop.

We often talk about issues facing the next generation without including them in the conversation. This week, I learned what a huge mistake that is. I've met a few of our future leaders, y'all.

a caricature of mindfulness

the cool thing to do