I’m not listening

My attention span these days is somewhat similar to that of a squirrel. For the mundane it is alarmingly low, but like that of a squirrel and his acorn it does increase slightly if I’m genuinely interested, although not much. I became aware of this lack of concentration sometime last year when I realised I was no longer able to simply sit on the couch channel surfing for hours. Now with my increasingly chaotic life my attention is worth much more. To watch T.V is to take away my attention from something usually much more worthy, and therefore it can’t just be any show, it has to be the best, my favourite, the one I’ve waited all week for. However, even during these shows I find that I have around a 5-10 minute window of pure TV-watching until my mind turns to refreshing Facebook or updating my Instagram (I know, it scares me too!)

When we talk about the commons and a shared collection of resources, it struck me as interesting that the materiality of our experience was also included, I had never thought of it in that way before. Can our attention really be a collective notion? Not just owned by yours truly but also by greedy advertisers preying on bored and lonely souls with a tub of ice cream and a remote on a Friday night?

With increasing mediums for information dissemination, attention is becoming a scarcity and something with monetary value.   “The ‘Attention Economy’ is thus a system that revolves primarily around paying, receiving, and seeking what is most intrinsically limited and not replaceable by anything else, namely the attention of other human beings.” (Kinsley 2010)

When you’re 12 and stuck at home for two weeks during school holidays without foxtel, then yeah ABC cartoons do have monopoly control of your attention, which is certainly not scarce. However as a busy adult I think I have complete autonomy in what I give my attention to, even if it is in a lecture when I really should be listening, I have the choice not to (a choice which I exercise much too often.) I am an “inherently calculative being, always assessing and calculating the worth and value of information” (Kinsley 2010) and constantly sifting through what is brought to my attention and only choosing a limited proportion of what is offered to fill my time. If a show bores me I’ll turn it off, If I don’t want to watch the ads I’ll  watch it online (or set the challenge of unstacking the dishwasher in under three minutes. ) My own attention economy, would not be very profitable.

Michael Ernard in his Short Manifesto on the Future of Attention imagines a world with attention as the measure of worth.

“Single TV episodes would be more expensive to purchase than whole seasons, in the same way that a six-pack of Oreos at the gas station is more expensive, per cookie, than a whole tray at the grocery store.” Things  that ‘cost’ more attention would be worth less as “prices of information commodities are inversely adjusted to the cognitive investment of consuming them.” (Ernard 2009)

A pretty ambitious idea… but not too unrealistic.

How Amazon try to get and maintain your attention:



[online] Kinsley, Sam (2010) ‘Tiziana Terranova—The Bios of Attention’, Paying Attention * http://payingattention.org/2010/09/07/tiziana-terranova-the-bios-of-attention/

[online] Erard, Michael (2009) ‘A short manifesto on the future of attention’,Observatory, * http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=10297


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