Linda Gorchels blogs

Is a Regenerative Attention Economy Possible?

Is a regenerative attention economy possible? That’s not a very good “clickbaity” headline, is it?

Should I have used the following title (even though it has nothing to do with the content)?

9 Tips to Increasing Brain Wealth

Or how about this one?

Are all Your Friends Narcissists?

Perhaps this would grab your attention:

What the F*ck were you thinking?

But my goal is not to sell you something, or to spew advertising at you. Rather, it’s to get you to think. And to contemplate. And to (dare I say?) become more humane.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is an attention economy?

This requires a bit of history. The term “attention economy” has been around for decades. It followed the agriculture, industrial and information revolutions. During those time periods, companies earned income selling agricultural products, then manufactured goods, and then information. Now with the Internet and social media, a major source of income for many companies is attention.

Yes, attention. And it’s one of the scarcest resources in economics.

Digital noise is increasing. That includes spammers, hackers, and opportunists in addition to “normal” social media and internet usage. And whether or not attention spans are getting shorter, there’s more competition for eyeballs and clicks. In other words, it’s harder to get people’s attention. While it’s clear this poses a problem for marketers, the evolution of the attention economy raises other challenges.

What other challenges?

There are several problems. You’ve probably read posts and articles about technology addiction. People check their cell phones and apps several times a day (or several times an hour). Commute time, dinner time and relaxation time are spent hunched over a cell phone. Bad for social interaction and bad for posture. (Cell phone usage is also a possible contributor to the growth of neck spurs.) Ouch!

But there’s even a bigger issue. Former Google ethicist Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, warns that technology is downgrading humans by using extremism to prey on our animal brains. Interest is highjacked by sensationalism, profanity, and antipathy. “Tech addiction, polarization, outrage-ification of culture, the rise in vanities and micro-celebrity culture” are negative consequences of the attention economy. That puts us at risk of becoming less informed, ruder, and increasingly alienated from others.

We need to make changes.

Can we regenerate the attention economy?

Do you know the definition of regenerate? It means “to effect a complete moral reform in; recreate in a better form.” A complete moral reform would require eliminating polarization, outrage, and narcissism. As well all the other negative aspect of the attention economy. That’s a tall order.

Tech companies are now beginning to realize they need to take a stand. As I mentioned in my JOMO blog last month, Google has started a Digital Well-being project. Apple has added a “Do Not Disturb” function to its phones. These are baby steps that deal primarily with the tech addiction problem, but it’s a start.

Unfortunately, changing the direction of the digital universe is like trying to steer a supertanker with a sailboat rudder. Even if all the tech giants worked together toward a regenerative attention economy, there would still be challenges.

Maybe we could all take some baby steps.

Apply a social media cleanse

Detox cleanses for the body are now a trend. Perhaps we could also try a detox cleanse for our social media usage. Mark Manson describes this as the Attention Diet, using a 4-step process.

  1. Cleanse. Unfollow all clickbait news sites. Uninstall pointless apps.
  2. Choose good information sources. Look for long form sources of information, even if they’re boring.
  3. Schedule your digital time. Determine how often and when you will check social media and email.
  4. Implement. If you aren’t disciplined to go cold turkey, look for website and phone blockers, timers, and other apps.

Making changes to your digital behaviors will be hard.  Social media can activate the part of your brain associated with pleasure. But it is possible to learn new habits. Try to take your own baby steps toward a regenerative attention economy.