Feb 272009

Re blogged from Wednesday, August 30th, 2006 with very slight changes:
This blog focuses on the coming of the Attention Economy. Every so often, I shall remind new (and even old) readers of what I mean by this term.

The basic idea is that we are moving toward a new kind of economy, wildly different from any before.

An economy in this sense is system of actions and transactions of some kind involving scarce but desirable or necessary entities, with the multiplicity of such transactions intricately tying an entire society or several societies together.

Attention here means attention from other human beings. Because we each have limited capacity to pay attention, the amount available is inescapably scarce. The more some have, the less others must have. This is so even though attention is really quite difficult to quantify with any precision.

Attention is necessary for all humans. It is also desirable, with no limit to how much a person can actually want. As long as it seems possible to garner additional attention through the Internet and related technologies, more and more people will go after it, increasing the level of competition for it and thus the overall scarcity. This leads to a vicious circle in which attention becomes more and more sought after. Its pursuit more and more fully comes to occupy most people’s efforts.

So far, to a considerable extent we have moved toward this new economy without any real consciousness of it. We largely analyze our affairs in the increasingly misleading terms of the old economy, in which such measures as GDP, employment and wage rates, inflation rates and the like are the key indicators. But these terms came into use in an economy dominated by the industrial manufacture of standardized goods.

One of the first such standardized manufactured goods was money itself (in the form of coins). Now, increasingly, money tracks attention. Those with a great deal of attention can easily obtain money, should they want it. Those with little attention will have a much harder time obtaining money. But this relation between attention and money may itself be transitional. When and if we fully enter into the attention economy, money may lose any significant role.

The attention economy, like any economy historically different from the industrial, market-based economy in whose terms we are all used to thinking, will have its own different implicit rules, roles, cycles, values, etc.

  4 Responses to “The Attention Economy Hypothesis in Brief”

  1. Dear Michael
    I’ve enjoyed your discussions of the attention economy in the various places they are posted online. I was wondering if/when you plan to publish these thoughts as a book?

    There are a few books on this subject, but none of them are as interesting, to me, as your own brief essays and blog postings. For instance, Lanham’s is rather meandering and vague, and Devenport’s is overly business-oriented as a “how-to” manual.

    I look forward to reading your own extended take on the subject (perhaps it is already published and I have missed it?)

  2. Dear Michael,

    I’ve just read your review of Lanhams “Attention Economy” on First Monday. Because I’m german and somehow deep into Francks work on attention economy here some information regarding to the “who had the idea first”-subject:

    Franck stated his version of the “attention is the new currency”-hypotheses 1989. The idea based on an article with his wife in 1986. They both found attention as a scarce ressource while researching on “the organisation of conversations” and stated that a group of people, which are involved in a conversation, self-organisate who speeks and who listens more efficient as longer the conversation lasts because they know that they all have only limited attention.

    Sorry for my bad english.

    Franck, G./ Franck, D. (1986): Zwischenmenschliche Verhandlung versus inter-subjektive Form – Für eine Analytik des Sprecherwechsels als nicht regelgeleitete Selbstorganisation des Gesprächs, in: Papiere zur Linguistik, Nr. 35 (1986) H. 2, Tübingen: Narr, S. 55-78.

    Franck, G. (1989): Die neue Währung: Aufmerksamkeit – Zum Einfluß der Hochtechnik auf Zeit und Geld, in: Merkur, (August 1989) Nr. 486, S. 688-699.

  3. […] What does it mean when most of our attention is consumed by the pursuit of attracting the attention of others? It was back in 1971 that Herbert Simon suggested that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention“1 and now the difficulty of capturing people’s attention (“a highly perishable commodity”)2 has some theorists suggesting that the future “attention economy” will have “its own different implicit rules, roles, cycles, values, etc.“3 […]

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