The conference blurb said “It’s time to build The Attention Economy”. What’s that, I wonder? The shindig was certainly equipped with lots of people holding forth on the subject, so this was my chance to find out. I took to accosting total strangers in the hallways saying “What do you think about this whole ‘Attention’ thing?”

Their answers took two forms: “I don’t get it” and “Yeah, sounds like you might be able to build some cool stuff with it”. I’m in the first camp: I freely admit to Not Getting It. But I can report some of the more compelling things that were said. I omit some presentations because I missed then and others because, as far as I could tell, they consisted entirely of vacuous hand-waving.

Dave Sifry · I missed some of Dave’s talk, but he sure had some phrases worth capturing: “We have enough money. We don’t have enough time.” “Give someone fun and creative to do, and they’ll go create the world for you.” “Hyperlinks are votes of attention.” I certainly agree with that last one. We already know how to count links... is that a good enough measure of attention? If it isn’t, what is?

Linda Stone · She invented the “continuous partial attention” meme; I really enjoyed her speech, which was basically a pushback against the condition it describes. Sound-bites: “An artificial sense of constant crisis... fight-or-flight response.” “The distractions are mice, not tigers.” “24/7 doesn’t feel so good any more.”

She says that young people respond to her ideas, want to get off the treadmill, and I can understand.

But then she claims that email is ineffective for decision-making and crisis management. The first is not true, I have been engaged in making important complex decisions mostly by email, mostly in the context of standards efforts, for about ten years now. If she were right, we could disband the IETF.

She points out that powerful tools, like chipper-shredders, need guidelines for safe use; alleges that email is an attention chipper-shredder.

Also, I have to confess that I get nervous when someone describes something that a lot of people are doing, apparently because they want to, and says “This is a bad thing, they shouldn’t do it.” But there’s no denying that Ms Stone has got her finger on a pain point.

I’m not going to try to recreate the arc of her argument, which was pretty nuanced and thorough. On the subject of what to do, she suggested a future of interconnected networks... me and my network, rather than me and the world.

“What do we really need? What do we want to pay attention to? It’s our scarcest and most valuable resource; it does define us.” Strong words, but on the other hand, she was not terribly successful at unhooking the audience’s eyes from their laptop screens. Which observation supports at least some of her argument.

The Attention Economy · I wonder if I’ll recognize it when I see it?

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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March 09, 2006
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