A short introduction to the attention economy

A while back, I wrote a very lengthy and super detailed article on the attention economy: how and why big data is hijacking your mind.

Honestly?

Even I don’t read super long articles on the web anymore. I don’t have the attention span for it (Oops…).

So, in all fairness, I’ve decided to repost the article in four parts, with minor edits for ease of readability.

Please see the original article for references.

Without further ado…


Back in 1997, Michael H. Goldhaber pened in Wired magazine, “the currency of the New Economy won’t be money, but attention – A radical theory of value.”

The article was titled Attention Shoppers!

Almost exactly a decade after Goldhaber’s “radical theory” on the attention economy, the first iPhone entered the market. The iPhone gave tech companies unprecedented access to human psychology, radically transforming the fabrics of society as we know it.

Another decade after the first iPhone made its way into the pockets of eager consumers, Tristan Harris, the co‑founder of Centre for Humane Technology, called the iPhone “a slot machine in my pocket.”

Harris, whom the Atlantic called “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” is one of the first Silicon Valley insiders to ring the alarm-bell on how big tech companies design their products in a way that manipulates our psychological vulnerabilities to grab our attention.


The business model of the attention economy is pretty straightforward: harvest attention for marketing and advertising purposes.

That constant itch to glance at your phone incessantly? It is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to capture our attention, and get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The longer we stay on these apps and websites, the more big tech learns about the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our psychology.

The average person in America is exposed to 3,000 advertisement messages per day. Not to share information on a given product or service but to simply grab our attention.

Today’s politics is less about actual policies and more about melodramatic Twitter meltdowns of presidential candidates. It draws attention.

The quality of attention doesn’t matter. What matters is the attention. That attention is an asset, the most valuable asset in the new economy.”

— Mark Manson

The attention economy profits when tech companies learn exactly how our brain works, seize our focus, and then sell our data to the highest bidder.

In the new economy, the most valuable asset we can accumulate is not money, nor wealth, and not even knowledge.

It is the ability to control our own attention.

Until next time. . . 

Sign up for my curated weekly newsletter on life-tech balance and digital well-being. Five ideas delivered right to your inbox. Every Tuesday.