Facing a Rising Attention Economy

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We are part of an attention economy of a Post-industrial world.   We are all glued to the screens of our phones waiting impatiently to receive someone’s attention. We can notice this craze more among the young. The global pandemic has made this condition acute.  While in some way we have found the digital escape to cope with the lock-down forced by the pandemic, it has left us ignorant about how what we do on the net boomerangs to haunt us. 

Digital attention has become precious to us. Our value is determined by our productivity on a scale of what we can bring on the table of financial resources on the basis of the technologies that we use daily. Life has slipped between our fingers on Facebook.  We are caught in a bubble of voyeurism and exhibitionism and do not care how the intimate information that we leave on the net will be used or abused by the service providers.  Attention has become the be-all and end-all of life.   The attention that we get on these social-network platforms often feeds into our narcissistic ego.  

Digital technologies have made information abundant and our attention has become a scarce resource has these companies struggle to capture our attention.  They do so with the help of the data that we leave on platforms of social interaction like Facebook, Instagram, and the like. Big data analytics offer big business opportunities to not just capture our attention but also manipulate us to mindlessly offer fat profits. Perhaps, we have to critically assess the business model of digital platforms of social interaction which feed into our needs for voyeurism and exhibitionism.  As long as we enjoy the spotlight that they offer us, digital business will flourish. 

Google has a laudable mission statement which states that it aims to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  Its mission statement has put the cat out of the bag but we have not been able to understand its business model. While it offers us information that is both accessible and useful, the information that we leave on their platform cannot be accessed or used by us. It is sold to those who are interested to commercially or politically exploit it manipulate us. 

Our digital footprints become the raw material for Google to be converted into commodities that can be used to capture our attention. Such commodities are being sold and bought in an attention economy. This economy picks up information with the eyes of technology  and documents our visits and travel habits (GPS), the number of sites that we visit, the number of clicks we receive, the things that we buy, see, listen to online.  This means the digital industry has two sides.  On one side it designs users by offering free platforms. These are baits to capture our data.  On the other side, it polices and polishes our data and sells it to the businesses that   use it to capture our attention to sell their products.   

We have to find an emancipative response to the age of attention. In several ways, hunger for attention has crept into our life. What has been called the information age has turned into an attention age that fires the new attention economy.  The information-rich world is hankering for our attention.  But the dynamic of attention economy wears us down quickly. This is why it has become fashionable to talk of digital detox. In fact, we have in Goa a place like elsewhere preferred by celebrities to stay away, clean, and rejuvenate from digital pollution.  Digital detox is a growing business today. 

 Paradoxically, to respond to this digital onslaught on our life, we need  to set our boundaries and build barriers. We have to find the middle way otherwise our narcissistic thirst for voyeurism and exhibitionism offered for free by these platforms would continue to destroy our  peace and tranquillity.  As we have said earlier, its attack on our attention capacities leaves us tired, fatigued, and cynical and even frustrated and we may have to launch a societal reshaping project.  Some of us maybe even unaware of what this attention economy is doing to them.  This is why we need awareness programs as well as support groups that think differently and shape our critical response to the bewitching serfdom that we have come to enjoy. 

To resist the economy of attention we will have to move to face to face reality from reigning   next best thing or it copy.  It require strong will and  alert vigilance to move back to the rough ground and shun aside the  world designed without blemish in the digital arena.  It requires us to disengage attention industry and engage real places, peoples and events.  

The pandemic condition has become a huge temptation to surf and indulge in the hyper real digital world.  It is also in tune with the mechanism of fear and anxiety, the chief tool of attention economy.   It is by understanding how fear and anxiety operates to enslave us that we may be enabled to escape the traps of attention economy.  This means we can afford a refusal of attention and thus free ourselves from end-less cycle of fear and insecurity.  

Refusal of attention has to be accompanied by redirecting of our attention to a new plane that takes us away from the filtered- bubble to the roughness of our real world.  Indeed we have to respond to the de-material ized  digital world by engaging the material world.   This is one of the most important means of responding to  the designer reality  that is  dished to us  though  relentless  techno-driven  customized intimidations which target our attention.  Besides,   this counter-attention techniques we have to develop skills of wakeful awareness that can assist us to choose our responses responsibly when we are a faced with a stimulus is directed to get our attention.  A lot depends on our will power to find ways of resistance

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao