The Attention Economy - How They Addict Us

The Attention Economy - How They Addict Us

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Language: English

Type: Human

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Number of words: 1967

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00:03
(phone dinging) - [Narrator] Hmm, that's not a bad photo. Laura posted a new album. A new video from John Oliver. Look at all these other videos. A new follower on Twitter. A few hot takes from the debate last night. This guy has a Wikipedia page. Oh, he grew up near New York. I grew up near New York, just catch up on Instagram. Text from mom, text from dad. Hey, Dad, watch this kid shoot a firework at his dad. Send, holy shit, it's been 40 minutes. Every time I look up after being stuck in my phone like this, I know it's going to happen again. And most of the time, I don't feel great about it. This is what it's like being a part of the attention economy. (chill music) In his famous 1997, Wired article "Attention Shoppers," theoretical physicist, Michael Goldhaber states that the economics of industrialized nations, especially that of the United States, have dramatically shifted. An increasing number of workers are no longer involved directly in the production, transportation, and distribution of material goods.
01:15
And instead are now living, managing, or dealing with information in some form. Most called this an information economy. But he rejects that label. By definition, economics is the study of how a society uses its scarce resources. And with the internet, our scarcity is definitely not information. Any piece of information you want, what product should you buy, what restaurant should you go to, who's this guy? All that is literally seconds away. So what does Goldhaber think flows through cyberspace and is scarce and desirable? As he explains, no one would put anything on the internet without the hope of obtaining some. It's called attention. And the economy of attention, not information, is the natural economy of cyberspace. And he's right, information consumes our attention, making it a scarce resource. We only have so many hours that we can glue ourselves to technology and the infinity of information it presents. We live in this attention economy where you succeed by getting people to spend the most time, to allocate their attention to you or your product.
02:16
And you dominate the economy if you can make people develop a habit where they spend time. To get their attention and hold it. It's why YouTube videos have titles like this. Why traditional news sources are struggling and why BuzzFeed is successful. It's why politics is no longer so much about policy as it is about who can bring the most attention to themselves or someone else. It's why Netflix has autoplay, why most social networks have an endless scroll. Look at advertisements from Old Spice or Mountain Dew. Their commercials are just trying to get you to look at them. Forget information, it's all about relevance. - Don't thank me, thank the savings. - [Spokesperson] You can't skip this Geico ad because it's already over. - [Narrator] But what about my problem at the beginning of the video, lost in a sea of clicking and scrolling around distracting, mostly unfulfilling content. Surely that's a self-inflicted issue. I should be able to close all of these tabs and apps that distract me. Well, it's not that simple. Social networks run the attention economy.
03:18
They need you on their site constantly to succeed as a business, to click and see ads. They need your attention to keep this revenue loop open. Facebook designs its algorithm to show you everything it thinks will grab your attention. Your past history scrolling, where you've clicked, something extremely depressing or uplifting. In other words, they've psychologically engineered a lot of their websites to literally fight against your brain. They wanna keep you from closing anything and they're really fucking good at it. These social networks have hundreds of years of psychological studies in linguistics, sound, design, and social behavior at their disposal. The perfect ding sound, the red notification, the like, the love, it's an endless flow of rewarding stimuli that keep you coming back. So what is the effect this has on us over the course of a day? Well, that depends on what you want to do with your day. And you may be thinking, who are you to tell us what's good for humans? Well, I don't mean to be an arbiter of truth or claim to know what's good for humans, but this constant distraction has a pretty drastic effect
04:19
on day-to-day life. Take, for example, a text message. It seems like a simple distraction, but it undoubtedly breaks our focus on whatever we're doing. Well, a study by Gloria Mark at UC Irvine found that it takes us on average 23 minutes to resume focus after any interruption. Even worse, we do two different tasks before coming back to our original project. And every time you're interrupted, you self-interrupt over the next hour more often than if you hadn't been interrupted. Now, add the fact that we check our phones on average 221 times a day, or every 4.3 minutes. It's scary in many ways. Not because you're not getting more quote important stuff done, but because you're not necessarily living your life how you wanna live your life. You're losing the ability to make choices that matter to you. We're just living for that quick burst of dopamine that comes from liking, swiping, and refreshing. Any feeling of banality or loneliness is quickly replaced by picking up a device, or as Louis CK says.
05:21
- You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kind of satisfied with your product and then you die. - [Narrator] So, it's the combination of these two powerful forces, the attention-getters and the attention-engineers that can be extremely dangerous. The dystopian visions of two of the world's greatest thinkers, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, I think described this point fairly well. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book where there would be no one who would want to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information, Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. As Huxley remarked in "Brave New World Revisited," "The civil libertarians and rationalists "who are ever on alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's "almost infinite appetite for distraction." I think both of these can happen at the same time.
06:23
I think the attention economy relates very closely to Huxley's vision. Now, there are two main actions you can take on this idea that we're descending into Huxley's nightmare. You either completely opt out of the system, in which case you might be completely overridden with fear from the consequences of unplugging. Not being in on a joke, not being the first one to know something, and not feeling caught up with friends. Or you figure out how to keep the current system from becoming Huxley's nightmare. But before we go further on that idea, I think we should take a step back. I've emphasized the bad stuff about all of this. It's not like the attention-getters and engineers haven't done a lot of good. Think of the information that you can get from any number of devices in seconds. You can figure out the reputation of a restaurant. You no longer need a map in most places. You can track a storm immediately and make plans to evacuate. Your ability to discover new opinions and great art, music, TV, and movies is infinitely higher now than it was before the internet. You can tell your friends that you're in an emergency with the click of a button.
07:24
You can invite all of them to a party in minutes. One of the most important things social media has done is bringing important issues to the forefront. A lot that have been looked over for a long time. - We have institutional racism in this country. - Climate change. - Climate change. - Climate change. - And the problem seems to be getting worse, and worse, and worse. - But discriminating against gay people is surprisingly legal in much of the culture. - [Woman] His sentence is insanely short. - The internet in short has given everyone a voice, and that's great. We see all of these issues constantly now, and our awareness helps us push for policy changes we want to see. Now, a lot of people don't think anyone is close anymore because of the internet. I'm on the fence about this one. Certainly these networks increase our overall number of acquaintances, which means a lot more peripheral relationships and small talk. And for many, there's also a reduction in the quantity of intimate interaction. The internet makes it so easy not to go out and do things with friends. Oftentimes we settle for the online versions of them. As writer Andrew Sullivan says, "We reduce our friends to some outlines,
08:27
"a Facebook friend, an Instagram photo, "a text message, in a controlled and sequestered world "that exists largely free of sudden eruptions "or encumbrances of actual human interaction. "We become each other's contacts, "efficient shadows of ourselves." But the flip side is that the internet allows us to be in contact with everyone that's ever been a part of our life. And for some of us, that's great. We can exchange things we like with our friends faster than ever. We can share parts of ourselves that may have never come out in person. We can talk to friends or family from across the world. Should any of this technology ever replace in-person, face-to-face conversation? I'm going to give that a strong no. But I'm torn about all of this. The attention economy as it is now still causes infinite distractions, whether they're good or bad. So where do we go from here? Well, for the attention-getters and attention-engineers, will they decide to exploit unconscious human psychology for the eternal loop of revenue and power? Or will they take a human-first approach? One rooted in substance, respect, one that cares about you
09:28
as a human and not as a source of money, that sees your time as valuable and helps you focus on what you want to do. And then there's people like me who have to try our best to fight against easy amusement, who have to read beyond headlines, read long-form journalism, and get a handle on different areas of study. If we don't, we're easy pickings for the attention economy. One that capitalizes on the uninformed, easily emotional individual who gets sucked into things by their basest instincts. And of course, it's important to unplug every once in a while. We have to enjoy the most communal moments as much as we can because the rest of our time is not spent doing those things. Otherwise, we'll keep descending into Aldous Huxley's nightmare, living in a world where we see everything, but do nothing where we don't spend time how we want to spend it. And instead, continue to amuse ourselves to death. (lively music) Hey, everyone, thanks for watching. I'm absolutely fascinated by that topic. I would love to know what you guys think. Let me know in the comments.
10:34
I realized how funny it is to make this pitch after this video. But if you like my content, I would love your support on Patreon. If all my subscribers pledged $1, I could do this full time, which would be amazing. I really care about the work that I do here and-- (phone dinging)

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