Attention Economy

rkhs put up a link to this (on Twitter). I suspect it will irritate almost everyone reading this, but it’s worth pushing past that. Even the irritation has significance. The world it introduces, of Internet-era marketing culture, is of self-evident importance to anyone seeking to understand our times — and what they’re tilting into.

Attention Economics is a thing. Wikipedia is (of course) itself a remarkable node in the new economy of attention, packaging information in a way that adapts it to a continuous current of distraction. Its indispensable specialism is low-concentration research resources. Whatever its failings, it’s already all-but impossible to imagine the world working without it.


On Attention Economics, Wikipedia quotes a precursor essay by Herbert A. Simon (1971): “…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Attention is the social reciprocal of information, and arguably merits an equally-intense investigative engagement. Insofar as information has become a dominating socio-historical category, attention has also been (at least implicitly) foregrounded.

Attention Economics is inescapably practical, or micro-pragmatic. Anyone reading this is already dealing with it. The information explosion is an invasion of attention. Those hunting for zones of crisis can easily find them here, cutting to the quick of their own lives.

A few appropriately unstrung notes:

(1) No less than those described by Malthus or Marx, the modern Attention Economy is afflicted by a tendency to over-production crisis. Information (as measured by server workloads) is expanding exponentially, with a doubling time of roughly two years, while aggregate human attention capacity cannot be rising much above the rate of population increase. This is the ‘economic base’ upon which the specifics of ‘information overload’ rest. Relatively speaking, the scarcity of attention is rapidly increasing, driving up its economic value, and thus incentivizing ever-more determined assaults designed to impact or capture it.

(2) Attention is heterogeneous. Sophisticated differentiation (discrimination) is encouraged as the aggregate value of attention rises. As capturing attention (in general) becomes more expensive, it becomes increasingly important to target it selectively.

(3) The limits of Attention Economics are not easily drawn. Is there any kind of work that is not essentially attentive (or affected by problems of distraction)? In particular, any sector of economic activity susceptible to information revolution falls in principle within the scope of an attention-oriented analysis.

(4) Education and politics are inseparable from demands for attention. (Religion, art, pageantry, and circuses carry these back into the depths of historical tradition.)

(5) A psychological orientation to Attention Economics is scarcely less compelling than a sociological one. ‘Attention-seeking’ is a trait so general as to amount almost to a basic impulse, tightly bound to the most fundamental survival goals, with their clamor for nurture, sex, reputation, and power, and then reinforced by formalized micro-economic motivations. The opposite of attention is neglect. Attention-seeking achieves hypertrophic expression in Narcissistic personality disorders, often conceived as the emblematic pathology of advanced modernity. Digital hooks for attention-seeking are evidenced by the reliance upon ‘likes’, ‘favorites’, and ‘shares’ — motivational fuel for the attachment to social media.

(6) The celebrity economy — in academia, journalism, and business no less than in entertainment — is a component of the attention economy. Celebrity is valued for its ability to command attention. Drawing on the structures of evolved human psychology, it lends special prominence to the face.

(7) Mathematical description of the attention economy has been hugely facilitated by the existence of an atomic economic unit — the click. (David Shing, in the video linked at the start, suggests that the age of the ‘click’ is past, or fading. Perhaps.)

Any strategic insights — whether for action or inaction — which do not square themselves with a realistic comprehension of the attention economy and its development cannot be expected to work. NRx, for example, engages a series of practical questions that include the husbanding and effective deployment of its internal attention resources (“what should it focus upon?”), interventions into the wider culture (an attention system), complex relations with media and — to a lesser extent — education, and finally, enveloping the latter, an ‘object’ of antagonism “the Cathedral” which functions as a contemporary State Church — i.e. an attention control apparatus. There is really no choice but to pay attention.

July 19, 2014admin 16 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Media , Political economy

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16 Responses to this entry

  • laofmoonster Says:

    An attention economy is bad news for the right. Awareness-as-activism (not far removed from democracy) allows leftism to spread through people who could not otherwise form leftist thought. It’s shameless memetic warfare.


    Ademonos Reply:

    I think it actually plays right into our hands. It leaves the real field open for those who are serious. The masses don’t mean anything, even in our liberal democracies. They are meat capital, and manipulating their opinions is wasted energy for us (and for the intelligent segments of the left). Stratification always serves the interests of the right, and almost everything causes stratification in the end.


    Posted on July 19th, 2014 at 7:13 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    Perhaps for a time politics should be restricted to people who are deadly serious about it.


    Posted on July 19th, 2014 at 7:16 pm Reply | Quote
  • Handle Says:

    Here’s some interesting paying of attention:

    Roko’s Basilisk in Slate


    spandrell Reply:

    1700 comments! That’s like 10 years worth of LW.


    Posted on July 19th, 2014 at 9:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • Ex-pat in Oz Says:

    Compression is also a corollary factor. We “binge”– whether it is with a season of or… Moldbug’s back catalog. This compression-discovery excitement leads to faster transmission. Attention + compression.

    We will be less profligate with our attention pennies too. Social media ‘activism’ is inherently hollow and being discredited. Crowdfunding seems like a good model to watch since it observes objective economic realities.

    Gresham’s Law is undermining ‘celebrity’. We’re down to “my friend shared their pic w/last season’s whoever on Facebook”. Attention economics will help authentic celebrity– borne out of talent/achievement as opposed to screen time– emerge– as it already is w/our respected Mr. Land. This is especially true of NRx/DE, which demands intellectual rigor.

    VXXC- Yes– but first we need a group up to the challenges of responsibly managing affairs. Even within NRx/DE, we’re a long way off from that though IMHO.


    fotrkd Reply:

    Attention economics will help authentic celebrity– borne out of talent/achievement as opposed to screen time– emerge– as it already is w/our respected Mr. Land.

    I fear you’re being hopelessly optimistic. Our respected Mr. Land (whether he likes it or not) will be rolled out as pantomime villain more than ‘authentic celebrity’ (and, besides, my guess is he’d hate the latter even more).


    Ex-pat in Oz Reply:

    I suspect you’re right about our host (he’s already practising his Goldfinger) — and maybe you’re right. But don’t you think even the dimmest sense the hollowness at the core of what passes muster for celebrity these days? I suspect even the pigeons are starting to notice that the pleasure pellets are starting to taste a lot like woodchips…


    Posted on July 19th, 2014 at 9:13 pm Reply | Quote
  • Attention Economy | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on July 19th, 2014 at 9:27 pm Reply | Quote
  • Bill Says:

    Awareness of the world at large is in competition against masturbating to a never ending stream of porn videos and online gambling. Most people are like B.F. Skinner’s pigeon hitting the button to get the reward. The pigeon thinks the world is the inside of the box, and the two most important things in the world are the button and the food pellet. The size of their ‘bank account’ of attention is defined by the rewards they seek.


    Posted on July 19th, 2014 at 10:25 pm Reply | Quote
  • JPOutlook Says:

    “Attention” is pretty close to the “Love” found in the context of the New Testament.


    Posted on July 19th, 2014 at 10:43 pm Reply | Quote
  • Piano Says:



    Posted on July 20th, 2014 at 2:05 am Reply | Quote
  • Antisthenes Says:

    Isn’t this what Speckle is supposed to alleviate?


    admin Reply:

    Alleviate, or exacerbate?


    Posted on July 20th, 2014 at 8:09 am Reply | Quote
  • Akaky Akakievich Says:



    Posted on July 20th, 2014 at 10:47 am Reply | Quote
  • Attention Economy | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG Says:

    […] Nick Land Attention […]

    Posted on July 20th, 2014 at 2:29 pm Reply | Quote

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