May 142007

An article in the NY Times magazine yesterday, “Sex, Drugs and Updating Your Blog” by Clive Thompson, demonstrates many of the realities I have predicted about the Attention Economy.

1. Fans feel a personal relationship with stars, even though they can only maintain such contact in reality when the number of fans is very small.
2. Fans are also eager to help stars, in and do their bidding quite generally.
3. The fans closest to a star , or those who successfully draw attention to her, bask in reflected glory, or , more accurately, obtain some additional attention from later or more distant fans.
4. All this works outside the money economy, but money tracks attention as much as any other kind of favor. Fans are eager to do what stars want, including, very usually, sending them money, even when it is not required, say, to download their songs.
5. With the Internet, stars and would-be stars are in a far better position than earlier to resist any large corporation’s conditions and more fully control their own destiny. The tradeoff is that they feel a certain obligation to maintain contact with the fans who e-mail them or ask to be added to their “friends’ list” on cites such as MySpace. But as the fan number grows, inevitably, for all but a favored few fans, this interaction turns out to be pretty rudimentary, maybe even automated. The fans who do obtain real interaction are often the ones who most deeply committed to helping the star, particularly, perhaps helping the star get attention.
6. Often, privacy becomes an issue. Old concepts of privacy have become reversed in the AE era. You want to reveal some fairly essential aspect of yourself, yet without necessarily paying attention to those aspects of the fans. Having been raised in an economy with rather opposite notions, this new kind of inverted privacy is hard to get used to. Stars are worried, for instance, that by revealing to much they will lose their “mystery,” and fans will not talk about them as much or try as hard to understand them. This seems to me wrong. Familiarity and understanding are never perfect, and the better you know someone or think you do, the more you tend to find what they have to offer of interest. People gossip about and discuss those they know much more than those who are too mysterious.
7. At the end of the Times article, the musician profiled talks about his “job,” meaning the time he spends online answering his fans. The old-economy notion of a job is used in an odd way, somewhat reflecting the fact that we do no yet have a full understanding of the new economy in its own, more perspicacious terms. I am, among other things, trying to change that.

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