Attention Economy

December 11, 2006 · Posted in abundance, economics, sharing · Comment 

Economics is defined as the study of production, distribution, and consumption of scarce resources. The key word is scarce. In the ever-increasing information age we are finding that scarcity is a fiction. Even when we look at physical items there is no practical limit and when we consider non-physical items broadly classified as intellectual property there is absolutely no limit. In fact intellectual property becomes more valuable as it is consumed and more people have it. It operates exactly the opposite of scarcity.

As the amount of information increases exponentially we are discovering another phenomenon. Instead of a shortage we have information overload, too much information. As copies of information are made it leads to discovery of new information and the cycle increases even faster.

The overload of information points to something that does have a natural scarcity, attention. Each of us has limited amount of ability to pay attention to any thing. Since we only live for a maximum of 120 years that sets a cap on the total amount of attention any one of us has to give

Hopefully you see that the total amount of attention is unlimited as long as there are more people. But at any given point in time and for each individual attention is a scarce commodity. And since scarcity leads to increased demand attention is becoming realized as the item of value.

In an Attention Economy the people that become rich are those that can efficiently attract and maintain attention. In the past that meant controlling the information distribution systems such as print, then radio and television. Now that the Internet exists no one controls the information distribution system. The playing field is equalized in that regard. There still are some physical barriers such as bandwidth and server capacity but even those have been conquered with technologies such as BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer systems.

To compete in an Attention Economy you must provide the desired information in the most efficient manner. Allowing and encouraging people to share and copy is an essential tool. Providing formats that are easily converted to other languages, media or methods of distribution increases the attention you receive.

All of that flies in the face of the scarcity model, and that is the point. If you want to do well in the Attention Economy you need to operate by different rules. But those rules have always existed. Give and you shall receive.

Action Items

  • Note how many sources of information you look at before feeling its enough or even too much.
  • Notice the types of media you prefer to get information through such as radio, television, Internet, newspapers, person to person.
  • Ask other people which types of media they prefer and why.

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