Friday, March 23, 2007

Attention Deficit Economy

I do actually have some work.

As you might have guessed from one recent post, I'm working on a piece about YouTube, eBay, blogging and some of the other phenomena (regrettably?) deemed Web 2.0. And all of this virtual space junk, also known as Me Media, makes me think some of us are pitching forward, face first, into an attention economy. A few months back, the New Yorker ran a nice piece on YouTube, and they spoke with a gal named Little Loca and an older chap who calls himself geriatric1927, both of whom are stars on YouTube. These people begin with a desire to speak and be heard, and in the case of Little Loca, a.k.a . Stevie Ryan, an aspiring LA actress, a desire to be famous. But when they become famous on YouTube, this doesn't necessarily translate into fame anywhere else, in either the virtual or the "real" world. They get attention, they might even get recognized on the street, but they don't profit financially from their fame. They are rich with attention. They command page views. Their first life is not necessarily enriched by their second.

The American political and social scientist Herbert Simon may have been the first guy to write about an attention economy, and he certainly could have been predicting the Information Age and Web 2.0 when he cracked that "a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it." So it isn't surprising that business strategists, advertising execs and Spam generators have all been abuzz about the attention economy for the last ten years. As it turns out, O'Reily Media, the software manual publisher who coined the phrase Web 2.0, actually proclaimed "The Attention Economy" as the focus of their 2006 Emerging Technology Conference.

Thinking of this blog as a part of the attention economy seems intuitive to me: I've been showing off with words since I learned how to pronounce "indubitably." But isn't gaming the attention economy just a way of indulging in the first and most deadly sin, the sin of Pride? A gal has to be really arrogant to believe that her opinion is worth as much or more than all the others in the air. In the past, if that gal, or that fellow, was actually a good writer, we wouldn't call their work a sin or an attention-getting device. We'd call it literature.

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