Dec 292006

A key element of an economic system is the nature of the basic transactions, if any. So it might be worthwhile to attempt a brief explanation of the difference between a typical monetary transaction in the familiar  (market-money-industrial) economy, and a typical attention transaction, of the type that characterizes the new economy. Here goes.

A monetary transaction, normally involves two parties and an  actual or implied contract between them (often in the form of a receipt). This is so whether it be the buying (and simultaneous selling) of something,  a rental of some sort, or payment for work done.  The contract is in principle legally binding and enforceable. Also involved of course are a handover of money, on the one hand, and goods, labor or services (good as services) on the other. Generally the money and the goods are both in standardized amounts, and one or both are handed over at specific times, with definite deadlines, in accord with the contract. Either or both parties can be other than individual human beings: they can be any legal entity, such as a corporation or a government.

By contrast, an attention transaction is rarely contractual, virtually never legally enforceable, and generally involves unequal attention on the two sides. Consider the case of someone speaking to a large, rapt audience; many pay attention to one, far more then he or she can pay back. Sometimes those paying attention also pay in services of other kinds or money, in addition to attention, sometimes not. The attention of audience members doesn’t necessarily end when they leave the room, or when the speaker is finished, but can continue further, and be re-ignited, much later by some mental association or other with the speaker or something she said. Each such further transaction clearly occurs in the mind of a particular listener.

An attention transaction thus involves each individual attention payer separately. The audience can be said to pay attention, but only to the extent that the sum of people n it do. If some pay much more, or return more tot the subject later, they are clearly each involved in a separate transaction, even though they may tend to pay heightened attention to the speaker precisely because so many other around are also paying attention. Likewise, it is difficult to pay attention to a group as such. Even if you are listening to an orchestra or chorus, you are significantly listening to the composer, whose work they can be said to channel, and the a few others who direct the playing, especially the conductor, and possibly also the arranger. Some particular person decides what pieces to play and how to play them, and the others turn that into sound. Likewise you can pay attention to play or a movie only if one particular person’s feelings and views guide how the others involved do what they do. To prepare such a complex performance requires a lot of attention on the part of the key person, which is why it can take months or years to make a movie, say, even though you can then watch it in little over an hour. But you are not paying attention to the film company, say Sony Pictures or Paramount, in the sense that if you buy, say a car, you are paying money to the car company.

  One Response to “Basic Transactions in the Old vs. the New Economies”

  1. Media companies have sometimes tried to make attention contracts more formal. For instance, the debate about Tivo and time-shifting technologies that allow ad-skipping. Firms with a vested interest in advertising revenue have initiated law suits to block (usually by banning the sale of certain technologies) such ways for consumers to skip ads. Oddly, consumers have not signed any explicit contract to watch advertisements, but rather media firms are inferring that consumers’ subscription constitutes an implicit contract for their attention.

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