The web has unleashed unlimited amounts of information to us. There is more information than we can possibly consume so the question is always how to find the most valuable information. If you look at this from a business or advertisement point of view instead of a consumer view then the value of information is not the issue. Instead the scarcity is attention. Kevin Kelly wrote a good post on this and summarizes the new rule for this new economy:
Where ever attention flows, money will follow.
In the attention economy it is all about attention. Getting a user/consumer to pay attention to you, your product, service or advertisement is very difficult.
There are several ways to draw the attention of a user. You could provide valuable service or information. That might get attention, but competition is fierce. You can take a shortcut and instead work on your findability. Google Juice, Self-linking, SEO strategy to get your site higher ranked than others can draw attention. You can engage with users, become part of social communities, build up trust, reputation or whuffie.
No matter what you do, it seems everyone else is doing it too. The web has brought us democracy. Anyone can do what anyone else can do. You don’t need to be an expert or professional. The web brings you all the tools to start. It’s what makes professional blogging so hard. There is competition from thousands of other blogs, professional or amateur.
I guess that is what the attention economy is about. The only thing left that is scarce in this mad world, is attention. While thinking in terms of attention can bring us a lot of good, it also comes with a downside. The biggest downside in my opinion is that we seem to be quickly moving into an era where attention is captured in one-liners.
The obvious examples are the “Breaking news” blog posts where nothing breaking is happening, just PR orchestration. Or the X Kills Y type of blog post. Google BlogSearch will Kill TechMeme. No substance but a lot of sound there. Or how about the most popular post on my blog? The title is “5 reasons why Facebook sucks”. There is substance there, but the title is short, contains a list, and combines the words Facebook and sucks. Success guaranteed. The posts that I’m really proud of, the ones I put passion get a fraction of the attention.
More dangerous forms? The “Steve Jobs heart attack scoop”. Unverified, but good enough to make Apple stock drop 10 points. The Sarah Palin controversy. For some she’s the biggest moron, for others the savior of the country. My view on it is that she sure uses a lot of one-liners in her interviews. As shown really well in this compilation video.
Actually the whole presidential campaigns have turned from visions into one-liners. The media nor the country seems to want vision, that doesn’t sell well. But everyone is looking for catchy sound bytes to get attention. It seems $700Bln of financial problems is managed by soundbites. Hard decisions don’t sell. A politician can easily get away from this mess by saying that we need to protect the American people, without really addressing the root cause of this financial crisis.
It’s the rat race for attention that makes soundbites more important than substance. Media need soundbites to get the attention of the consumer. And it seems all we care about is to listen to soundbites. The complexity of everything is reduced to a one-liner.
I hate it. We haven’t become any dumber than we used to be? If anything, we can and should be better informed in this information age. Are we really that busy that we can’t find any time anymore to digest anything? Somehow I doubt that. It seems that interaction has become more important than what you’re interacting about. Form over substance. If the habits of the early adopters are at al predicting what we are heading for then it will only get worse. There isn’t time to read a long blog post anymore, because everyone is so busy aggregating content and having “discussions” over it. No need to fully understand the issue at hand, just read a TechCrunch headline and you are fully informed of today’s reality. Breaking news is reduced to 140 character Tweets. The shorter the better.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the era we live in. Exciting things happen, new technologies break to the masses, there are crazy things happening in ths world. But in the midst of this hasty world, we can still take time and pay attention to the whole story. No one is forcing us to think one-liners. in the end we are responsible ourselves for this simplistic and sensational behavior. It would be good if we would stop paying attention to sound bytes and start looking for substance again.
Wouldn’t it be great if Obama and McCain would actually be forced to talk substance? Or would you rather let a one-liner decide who gets the most powerful job in the world? Look what the previous 8 years have brought us. A man with limited substance was able to set the world on fire, ignore any problems in his home country and end up with one of the biggest financial crisis in the history.
I’ll take substance over the ability to speak in sound bytes.