Alongside the familiar patterns of mainstream attention, there are a huge number of new patterns that could only exist in digital culture. Some of these patterns are very slow, with attention accruing over months or years, as social recommendation or small groups of fans gradually accrue around content. Some are extremely fast, synchronising audiences’ attention around a piece of culture within days, before moving on just as quickly. Some are driven by deliberate plans, orchestrated between broadcast channels and social media. Some emerge via the organic connections of lots of smaller drivers, from blogs and niche channels to SEO and twitter accounts.
But, regardless of the pattern itself, the difference is that they’re Spiky — there are no technical or economic constraints keeping the spotlight in one place anymore, so attention can move on as quickly as it arrived. This is the major shift that we are missing when we are nostalgic for the 20th century. We’re only just beginning to learn what culture looks like in spiky networks, and only just beginning to invent the companies and institutions that can survive long enough to support and invest in culture in this landscape.
Posts tagged attention
I think what is most interesting about the relation between art and information is the reciprocal relation between art as rarity and information as ubiquity. It turns out that ubiquity can be a kind of distributed provenance, of which the artwork itself is the derivative. The artwork is then ideally a portfolio of different kinds of simulated value, the mixture of which can be a long-term hedge against the risks of various kinds of simulated value falling—such as the revealing of the name of a hidden artist, or the decline of the intellectual discourse on which the work depended, or the artist falling into banality and overproduction. Since art became a special kind of financial instrument rather than a special kind of manufactured article, it no longer needs to have a special means for its making, or even perhaps special makers. Indeed, curators now rival artists for influence the way DJs rival musicians. Both are a kind of portfolio manager of the qualitative. The next step after the dematerialization of the artwork may be the dematerialization of the art worker, whose place could be taken by new kinds of algorithmic functions. These would still have to produce the range of simulations that might anchor the artwork as a derivative of their various kinds of sign value.
Last year I turned off all my notifications. I stopped booking meetings. I started living asynchronously. Now instead of being interrupted throughout the day—or rushing from one meeting to the next—I sit down and get work done. I work a lot. I communicate with hundreds of people a day. I collaborate extensively. But I do so on my own terms, at my own tempo. You can live more asynchronously, too. I’ll explain the benefits. I’ll show you how.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of ways to collect some different form of value, besides money or just another token. One of the more interesting ideas is that in age of abundance, our time and thus attention is the most valuable asset. Maciej Olpinksi has written about the attention economy in relation to blockchain tech and similarly inspired me to think about ways to monetize that.
The recent decades have seen a dramatic reversal in the conceptualisation of inattention. Unlike in the 18th century when it was perceived as abnormal, today inattention is often presented as the normal state. The current era is frequently characterised as the Age of Distraction, and inattention is no longer depicted as a condition that afflicts a few. Nowadays, the erosion of humanity’s capacity for attention is portrayed as an existential problem, linked with the allegedly corrosive effects of digitally driven streams of information relentlessly flowing our way.
do we read the articles we share?
From the vantage point of our own auditory world, with its jets, jackhammers, HVAC systems, truck traffic, cellphones, horns, decibel-bloated restaurants and gyms on acoustical steroids, Schopenhauer’s mid-19th century complaints sound almost quaint. His biggest gripe of all was the “infernal cracking” of coachmen’s whips. (If you think a snapping line of rawhide’s a problem, buddy, try the Rumbler Siren.) But if noise did shatter thought in the past, has more noise in more places further diffused our cognitive activity?
When it comes to talking about social media, it’s easy to get trapped in utopian and dystopian rhetorics. My goal is not to go down one of these rabbit holes, but rather, to critically interrogate our participation in the culture of fear. Many of you are technologists, designers, pundits, and users. How are we contributing to or combating the culture of fear? What are our responsibilities with regard to the culture of fear? What kinds of things can and should we do?