Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Attention Economy: What's new?

Speaking of video ...

There's something primal in the attractive power of a flickering TV screen, some circuit deep in the brain that says "I need to look at that. It might be important." We know that the circuit in question must be fairly inacessible because that gut feeling that the pretty pictures might be important is practically always wrong, and yet we continue to gravitate.

Sometimes we watch the pretty pictures because they inform, more often because they entertain, but mostly, it would seem, because they keep us occupied until the real payload comes along: more pretty pictures meant to get us to buy cars, or beer, or beauty products or best of all, a new and bigger TV. To which we can then be even more strongly attracted, and in which we can be even more thoroughly immersed, than ever.

Don't get me wrong. I like TV, particularly when the NCAAs are on. I'm just wondering what exactly is the new part of the idea of grabbing people's attention and extracting money from them, which, if I understand it, is the basis of the "Attention economy".

Or is the attention economy about amassing and trading data about what people are paying attention to? That's surely a means to the end of extracting money from said attention. Granted, the web adds something new here: It's much easier to collect precise and copious data on which pages people are clicking on, as opposed to estimating what they're watching on the TV. But as far as analyzing that data in a widely-accepted and understood way, and actually "monetizing" it, the web still seems to be playing catch-up to Nielsen.

Maybe I'm being too glib here. Once again, I'm really just pushing back against the idea that The Web Changes Everything. The more I study the matter, the more I think that much of the low-hanging fruit was picked generations ago (at least). To paraphrase someone: The web is new and significant, but what's significant isn't new, and what's new isn't significant. That's a strawman position, and I don't really believe anything quite that strongly put, but I do find it a useful lens through which to examine what I run across.

1 comment:

earl said...

How about them Hawks? And them Wildcats?