It's an Attention Economy, we just live in it
February 28, 2008 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Some say economics is changing so radically that attention is of more value than money or material wealth. If that's true, then should Paris Hilton and Britney Spears be considered role models? Must we each be stars in order to be a success, to get anything achieved, or to gain even the slightest traction?
posted by kmartino (32 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The article is awful, but the Hear n' Aid video is pretty sweet. The Spinal Tap guys should have been given bigger roles.
posted by brain_drain at 8:23 AM on February 28, 2008

It's an illusion. People do need (some) attention in order to not go crazy. But businesses only need attention insofar as attention helps them make money.

There are few things that can be "of more value than money", because money is a nearly universal medium for exchange. Only those things that cannot be obtained for money could be considered "more valuable than money", and, as advertisers attest, attention can be obtained for money.
posted by Jpfed at 8:28 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

And money for attention.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:31 AM on February 28, 2008

But you said that.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:31 AM on February 28, 2008

Must we each be stars in order to be a success, to get anything achieved, or to gain even the slightest traction?

Only if you think this is the only game in town.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:34 AM on February 28, 2008

A basic law of economics is that something has value if it can help you, directly or indirectly, achieve your top-tier needs of food, shelter, warmth, and sex. In the current economy, monetary wealth works very well towards those ends. I fail to see how attention on the web will achieve any of those things, unless the attention can be exchanged for money through ad revenues.
posted by rocket88 at 8:35 AM on February 28, 2008

Extras is an interesting book that deals with the idea of an attention-based economy. It's a successor to the dystopian Uglies/Pretties/Specials trilogy by Scott Westerfield. The books are written for young adults, but they're a good quick read if you're into this stuff.
posted by olinerd at 8:38 AM on February 28, 2008

I've tried twice now to dig into the article and I just can't. Something in Goldhaber's writing style is just needles in the eye this morning—I can't tell if it's him or me or a little of both or what. That it's intended as a talk may be part of that. Skimming, I think that I would be interested in the meat of what he's saying if he could be a little more goddam pointy-getty-to-y.

That video, on the other hand, I was able to watch raptly. The hair! The hair!
posted by cortex at 8:46 AM on February 28, 2008

your top-tier needs of food, shelter, warmth, and sex

I would personally add loose shoes to that mix.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:47 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Must we each be stars in order to be a success


to get anything achieved

Hie thee to a hammer, soldering gun, typewriter, paintbrush or fertility pill.

or to gain even the slightest traction?

Yes. And that's because "traction" means "with the public".
posted by DU at 8:48 AM on February 28, 2008

Within the framework I have suggested, there is little mystery as to why this should be. If fans are willing to do anything up to some limit for stars, such as wait in long lines to see them perform, avidly make sure to be there when they come to town, applaud them and sing their praises however they can, often paying more attention to stars than to members of their own families and so on, then it should come as no surprise that fans are also willing to pay out money at the stars' behest. It is just one more way to follow a star's wishes.

So we're all going to be camwhores in the future?

If Gates were to decide to sell out and buy control of the XYZ Corp. instead of staying at the helm of Microsoft, as soon as he let this be known, his Microsoft stock would fall precipitously and XYZ's would rise. His own net worth would plummet, at least temporarily, but such is the attention wealth he has, that as soon as he began to issue pronouncements from his new stage, XYZ's stock would probably rise further, and Gates' former monetary wealth might magically reappear. Despite the fact that the arena in which he made his mark happens to be business, it is already true that Gates' actual wealth, and that of many like him, is less in money or shares of stock than in attention.

Yes, but this wealth will fall if earnings statements go south. The patented Steve Jobs RDF hasn't stopped Apple stock price from falling.

It just seems all of this pondering and pontificating is based on the backs of a large upper middle class that doesn't really have anything else to spend their money on, since everything else is so cheap. Relying on the most discretionary of discretionary income is going to suck if and when any matter of economic downturn happens.

I also believe that the author overstates how much "attention" people will receive doing crap work, even crap work associated with new media:

Still, many of the kinds of tasks once performed by publishing company employees such as acquisition and line editors, designers, publicists, and so, will still be done, but on much more ad hoc and free-lance, eventually even unpaid basis.

Most of that work gets little credit as it is; It will get even less when every single person is vying for attention in the public eye. This will also mean acrimony and drama of even greater levels, as a person's sense of entitlement is all that is keeping them working.

Bleh, more techno utopianist BS. All positives, with some qualifications that it will be a time of "great change". It reminds me of hard core free trade advocates. "Each side does what they are best at, and then trade with one another. The value of all is increased". You say that in Flint Michigan, you're liable to get the crap kicked out of you. Combine that with the line that "this is inevitable", used by everyone from Karl Marx to Christians, and no concentration on any downsides.

I do believe there is an "attention economy", but it stands no chance of replacing the real economy. People on the Internet do vie for attention, and such attention is a limited quantity. It's almost totally irrational at times, but I'm guilty of it to. Who doesn't like to see one's post of comment favorited multiple times. I got a little rush when, upon a casual search of metatalk, I found that I'd been quoted in the NY Times. And this attention can used to generate money. But not directly. I can't buy a soda with the fact I've been quoted in the NY Times. Predictions of the end of the stock market in favor of paying attention to SciFI authors is nothing more than so much Whuffle.
posted by zabuni at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm so broke, I can't pay attention. *rimshot*


I'm here all week.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2008

rocket88: The great, great majority of our economic system is geared towards fulfilling none of the top-tier needs you've listed. (Just as 90% of water use has nothing to do with household use.) I would argue that something is of value in the money economy if and only if it aids in the concentration of money. Needs like food and shelter can be chalked up as personal liabilities - and a way for others to make money off of us (unless we grow our own food, that is). Which in turn forces us to work, which generally involves helping someone else concentrate wealth. Indeed, if the economy were actually about fulfilling basic needs, it would look nothing like what we have today: Growing your own food and building your own shelter is much more satisfying than working in an office for fifty years, no matter how nice the car they give you.

My personal guess is that the basic laws of economics are formulated to mask whatever economics is actually doing by relating it to people's lives. YMMV.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:56 AM on February 28, 2008

Isn't the whole idea of attention being of more intrinsic value then wealth neatly summed up as politics?

If instead you're valuing attention as a way of aquiring material assets, then again, isn't that companies throughout the world do with regards to marketing? And in that case, money is still the more valuable asset, since your.. spending your attention credits to leverage sales.

I'm failing to see what's so new about this all.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:57 AM on February 28, 2008

*isn't that what companies....
*since you're.. spending...
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:59 AM on February 28, 2008

The article wrongly treats attention as an end, rather than a means to another end - namely money. The money economy still rules in the internet age.
posted by rocket88 at 9:15 AM on February 28, 2008

"If that's true, then should Paris Hilton and Britney Spears be considered role models?"

No. (Hope this helps.)
posted by Mike D at 9:15 AM on February 28, 2008

If the Web and the Net can be viewed as spaces in which we will increasingly live our lives...


did not read, it's too stupid
posted by quonsar at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2008

I knew running up the attention deficit would come back to haunt America.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:28 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Isn't that kind what Cory Doctorow was pointing out in his novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by his invention of "*whuffie"?

"...*ephemeral, reputation-based currency..."
posted by Lynsey at 9:58 AM on February 28, 2008

If you're selling something that needs an audience, then ... duh ... attention is a critical factor. There is a large component of internet usage that is somewhat audience-like. However there is a difference between audience attention and establishing a relationship. doesn't get my business because it has my attention, it gets my business because it has established a relationship with me. Of course my attention had to be drawn to first, but that attention did not result in any revenue generated from me to Amazon. So if the definition of attention is expanded to include the forging of relationships then, yes Virginia, the internet can assist in forging relationships that were more difficult to establish pre-internet. But hey, I believe parcel post, the telegraph, and the telephone did their part to improve the ability to broaden people's ability to connect to other people, and hence allowed new relationships to be built as well.

Thinking about this more, I think that I only agree that there's an economy around attention as it pertains to advertising and marketing. However, the real (and big) economy is based on relationships and trust, and I think attention marketing can often run antithetical to that. So yeah, call me when the Bank of Brittney Spears opens and we'll see how well received it is.
posted by forforf at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2008

It's called Branding©™ and it's what separates a Commodity from a Product©™, a.k.a. why so many people buy Doritos©™ instead of Tortilla Chips. A Bank of Britney Spears would be incompatible with her image, so it ain't gonna happen... Britney Spears Recovery Clinics? If she "turns her life around", that's a franchise. If she doesn't? Britney Spears Memorial Clinics.

Either way...
This will not wendell.©™
posted by wendell at 11:13 AM on February 28, 2008

You are all missing a key point which is that for some people attention is as valuable as money, or as valuable as what that money could by. Attention is not the means to get more money, it is the objective in and of itself. Having hundreds of friends on myspace (a function of attention) may be as satisfying to some people as the purchase of new clothing or a nice dinner. For people who value fame or popularity more than money, the loss of attention may be as devastating to them as going broke is for someone else.

Thus, a lot of what we see on the internet that has no way of ever making money for anyone nonetheless persists because people are being compensated in other ways.

Of course attention can't buy your food or shelter unless you monetize it, and not all people can monetize it. But this is important because those aspects of the monetary (i.e. real) economy that depended on people seeking satisfaction or emotional gratification through consumption will suffer as people get this gratification elsewhere.

In other words, if buying shoes makes me feel good, but getting lots of attention also makes me feel good, if I'm getting a lot of attention online, I won't be buying as many pairs of shoes.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:34 AM on February 28, 2008

Seth Godin's post today on attention.
posted by rush at 11:50 AM on February 28, 2008

I would personally add loose shoes to that mix.

That's going back a ways, Earle.
posted by Herodios at 12:21 PM on February 28, 2008

In essence, that would be Seth Godin's post every day, though.
posted by cortex at 12:31 PM on February 28, 2008

Attention is not the means to get more money, it is the objective in and of itself.

But then how is attention some type of new economy that will replace the current one as the article in the fpp posits?

I think I'm put off by this article because the definition of attention is so loosely that one can construe it as an all encompassing economic force, but that definition would then also become meaningless. Saying that Doritos has more market share because it garners more attention is so imprecise to almost be dishonest. Doritos (as wendell mentions above) has a brand. Now if the article was about branding, rather than attention, then we'd be getting somewhere. However, if the article was about branding it probably read pretty much just about everything else that's been said about branding over the last couple of decades.

Wendell got closer to the core issue than I did, you can't turn attention into money just by having attention. You can't turn a brand into money if it's incompatible with the relationship (real or perceived) one has with the brand. Attention + Branding + the ability to resonate with the "consumer" (i.e., establishing a relationship) - that's where the gold is at. This article strikes me as the equivalent as "Go West, young man". Yeah, you can go west, but that doesn't guarantee you'll find any gold (and if you're gonna go looking for gold, shouldn't you have some idea of how to identify it and mine it?).
posted by forforf at 12:40 PM on February 28, 2008

Man, I was tryin' to get a bag of chips at the Stop 'n' Rob, and the clerk, he just kept tellin' me that they were 99¢, and I kept tellin' him, "Don't you understand, man? I have a blog! I comment often on Metafilter, I got thousands of favorites! My reputation's worth at least these chips plus a soda!"

And he was like, whatever.

So I called him retarded on Yahoo Answers.
posted by klangklangston at 3:23 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, Whuffie is the currency in the first fart-based economy.
posted by klangklangston at 3:23 PM on February 28, 2008

Attention is the commodity the media industry sells. If you are any sort of content producer you live and die on the attention you garner. The media industry is becoming large. But yeah it's not a 'revolution' or whatever.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 8:03 PM on February 28, 2008

Money spawns attention. I think that whoever authored this article was simply trying to interpret the correlation between money and public attention--or am I completely missing the point (as I often do when I start to think at more than 50%)?
posted by pandemic at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2008

I don't think the author is serious, he is obviously just trying to get attention.
posted by Laugh_track at 6:06 AM on February 29, 2008

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