Tech and the attention economy
By Karl Li, solutions engineer at Skuid
This article is part one of a series of blog posts where I attempt to define the attention economy and discuss what it’s like to live and work in today’s tech industry.
As a solutions engineer at Skuid, I’ve always been curious about the deeper underpinnings of how the tech industry works and its greater ramifications for society and markets as a whole. I was born in 1993, and I straddled the birth of the internet. In high school, some of my most formative memories include my earliest interactions with the internet — AOL messaging, Xanga blogs, and studying for my macroeconomics class using Khan Academy. Since then, the tech world and the way we’ve exploited the internet have evolved; we’ve long since fallen out of the information economy into the attention economy.
What’s the attention economy? Herbert A. Simon — also a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence — coined attention economics in 1971. But not much came of the term until another academic and innovator named Thomas H. Davenport popularized it in 2001. At the time, Davenport was heavily pushing his research and experience around a concept called “Big Data.”
We can already intuitively grasp how the information economy has commodified our personal data — companies buy, sell, trade, and make decisions based on the data points they’ve collected from our everyday purchasing behaviors.
But what if I said that the same principle is the foundation of the attention economy?
Since we live in a world with infinite information and a growing set of tools to exponentially create more material, businesses no longer value content. Instead, ads, products, and services bid for our attention each and every day. Not to mention the other useless articles, fake news, and ridiculous tweets people share over and over.
Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine, first exposed me to these ideas. In a 2008 blog post titled “Better than Free,” he summarizes the new rules of the attention economy in a single thesis: “Wherever attention flows, money will follow.”
The rest of his eight rules that govern the most successful products and services of the new attention economy are as follows:
- Immediacy — instant delivery and satisfaction
- Personalization — products or services tailored to the consumer
- Interpretation — availability of support and guidance services
- Authenticity — paying more for genuine, quality products
- Accessibility — access to data wherever, whenever
- Embodiment — delivering digital content in more personal, meaningful ways
- Patronage — the tendency to pay for something “because it feels good”
- Findability — standing out in a sea of “millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention”
Crazy right? What do you think? What do you find yourself paying more and more attention to nowadays? What do you think people will need to thrive in today’s attention economy?
Make sure you catch the second installment of my monthly series — coming soon — where I’ll be talking about the perils of navigating the attention economy while working from home.
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