Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Tuesday, June 8, 2004day link 

 Attention Economy
Seb Paquet:
I think Phil Jones provides a powerful insight in his page on Google Juice. As attention online becomes explicit and accounted for, we may "start to apply it more, to put it to better use, going out of our way to earn it by writing more, and thinking more and offering other favours to our net-friends. In other words, an attention economy can stimulate people to do stuff the same as the money economy."
Hm, yeah. We are to a large degree moving into or already living in an attention economy. Which suddenly makes it a bit worrying if Google is the bank. If Google adjusts their page ranking algorithm a tiny bit, "fortunes" change hands, in terms of attention. Is that good and fair? Shouldn't the mechanism somehow be in our collective hands? No good way of accomplishing that at this point, but it is an important issue, as one's Google fueled attention account gets increasingly important. Phil Jones also says:
In the old money economy, passing money around was the definition of or the creation of economic activity. It's what let us "measure" economic activity. In fact the indexes of economic growth can be increased simply by pulling gifts, favours, friendship services from the non-accounted realm into the payed realm.
So if we're serious about such an economy being meaningful, does it then make sense to work hard on increasing one's holdings of attention? Maybe, maybe not. It is noteworthy that the people who work most hard on improving their position are not the people who most naturally circulate in such new kinds of economies, but rather the folks who're thinking of money and advertising and leverage all day. The people who tend to do best in the attention economy are exactly those who "act naturally", who don't waste any time jockeying for position. I don't think Doc Searls or Joi Ito are scouting around for people to do link exchanges with or who they can persuade to be their friends. They're following their own authentic attention and interests, and that is what is interesting about them.

What we need is rather ways of weeding out the fake attention. Sure, I'd enjoy if more people were reading what I'm saying. But I know very well that if I made a hundred fake websites that linked to myself, that wouldn't really do it, even if I could temporarily fool Google to bring me more traffic. Google already brings me plenty of attention, more than I deserve on certain subjects.

Should I work on finding a lot of new friends on Orkut and Ryze? Would it make me a more popular guy who's rich in attention? Maybe, but only if I really have anything to say that's worth paying attention to.

In brief, I think that, no, the thing to do is NOT to treat attention as if it were cash you could just circulate around to create economic activity. It works by different rules altogether. If our shared information space becomes sophisticated enough, we might get better at drawing and giving attention where it really is warranted. Which might include some activities that vaguely resemble self-promotion. But beyond a certain somewhat fuzzy line it starts being virtual check kiting. And that is going to turn out to not be very useful to anybody.
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