[iDC] A primer on the Attention (Centered) Economy

Emil Sotirov emil at sotirov.com
Sat Oct 24 00:11:35 UTC 2009

Hi to all... I'm a long time lurker on this list.

A bit about me - architect by education,
software/internet entrepreneur since 1994. Spending most of my time
(attention) chasing spammers/scammers from Aidpage (aidpage.com).

Here is a something I posted as a comment in another
related to the discussion here:

"...all the material stuff people consume is ultimately instrumental to the
core human economy - the attention economy. The attention economy is the
core because it 'drives' people... it is where all human motivations are

So, that's why I still think that the web - and companies like Google - will
have a much deeper effect on everything else... than we now can see and
measure in purely web economics' terms. The instant search thing (Google) is
changing profoundly what people see - meaning who gets to be seen... and
why. The traditional cultural filters (books, teachers, authorities) and
their top-down 'information architectures' are being replaced by never
ending 'live' multidirectional flows of 'unregulated' attention. Yes, Google
basically doesn't regulate attention - it lets people decide what's relevant
and what's not (amazingly, many people still cannot grasp this).

People get to see other people and be seen by other people in a totally new
attention architecture - and this is where new motivations, satisfactions,
ways of being happy or unhappy... are being defined... as we speak.

And because this is largely a bottom up process... people at the social
'tops' (think the boardrooms) just don't have access to it...
intellectually. To them, what's happening now will be as incomprehensible
and shocking as the early Christianity was to the Roman elites.

And, as it was always the case throughout history, what is desirable for
material 'consumption' will be defined by the dynamics of the attention
economy. Behind every human artifact, there is a human being... on the other
end, so to speak. And that's what we ultimately care about and 'consume' -
other people."

One more thing I just thought about - "unwanted attention"... Is there such
a thing as "unwanted money". Attention moves us in more ways than money. I
must be an attention fundamentalist.

Emil Sotirov
emil at sotirov.com

On Thu, Oct 22, 2009 at 11:02 AM, Jonathan Beller <jbeller at pratt.edu> wrote:

> In response to the invitation, my comments appear below Michael Goldhaber's
> provocations.
> Jon
> Jonathan Beller
> Professor
> Humanities and Media Studies
> and Critical and Visual Studies
> Pratt Institute
> jbeller at pratt.edu
> 718-636-3573 fax
> On Oct 21, 2009, at 10:01 PM, Michael H Goldhaber wrote:
> Dear all,
> It would appear that most of the people on this list who have voiced an
> opinion firmly believe both that capitalism remains essentially the only
> current “mode of production” and that the attention economy is, if anything
> at all, only a not very interesting sub-species of the former. This is not
> how  I have understood things for quite a few years now. What follows then
> is a rough and incomplete primer on how I see what I shall refer to as “the
> attention (centered) economy,”  — a new, post-capitalist class system,
> differing in its essence from capitalism. I have emphasized features that I
> think demonstrate why some views expressed on this list, or in
> correspondence off list with me, are mistaken. The views I challenge
> include the notion that attention flows through the Internet chiefly to
> corporations, that attention only has significance if somehow monetized,
> that it is ultimately capitalists who exploit attention, and that money
> remains far more basic than attention. Obviously in such a brief
> introduction I can hardly hope to convince anyone, but I do hope that this
> will at least open some to reconsider the issues more fully. So to begin:
> 1. Attention (from other humans)  is needed by every human being. In fact,
> no  infant can possibly survive without it.  Many children, at a very young
> age, clearly evince a desire for as much attention as they can get. Whether
> that desire remains as they grow older is a psycho-social issue. But many
> adults clearly want attention, and because of its immaterial nature there is
> no limit as to how much. [I have explored the meaning of attention much more
> fully here:
> http://goldhaber.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/Chap_3_3.19.07.pdf  ]
> The infant's need for attention does not prove anything, any more than an
> infant's need for food would prove that such a need places him or her
> outside of the capitalist economy. Ditto for shelter, water, medicine,
> education, or, for that matter, a Porsche. The point is that with the rise
> of capitalism each of these use-values becomes available only as a
> commodity, that is, it must be accessed via exchange-value. Lack of the
> general form of social wealth, i.e., money, means that the infant does
> without basic necessities. Witness the 2 billion dispossessed. What were
> once solely animal or even human-social needs are encroached upon as capital
> penetrates the life-world. Piece by piece aspects of traditional societys,
> of the commons, are subsumed, and simultaneously new needs are invented. It
> is for this reason that people are talking about attention now -- it is a
> new frontier for capital encroachment, aka, commodification. I say new, but
> the cauldron has been bubbling during the entirely of the long 20th century
> while technologies for the organization simmered to a boil.
> 2. However each of us has only limited capacity to pay attention.
> Everyone's attention combined is thus also finite. As attention-seeking
> technologies increase, and as social prohibitions against seeking  an
> audience weaken by example, the competition for it grows. [I have discussed
> the Internet in this light here:
> http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/519/440.]
> Seeing attention as a finite resource subject to zero-sum logic is already
> evidence that you are conceptualizing it as if it were a commodity. That's
> because it has become one -- another natural resource undergoing
> privitization. The very perception of attention in this framework is a
> result of material changes in the organization of social life, changes which
> are on a continuum with the history of capitalized media. I know from your
> ungenerous review of *The Cinematic Mode of Production* that you read over
> some of these ideas already but did not think much of (about?) them.
> Nonetheless, one would be hard-pressed to separate the emergence of
> attention grabbing technologies from NASDAQ. Notice that in rags like the
> New York Times the arts pages have become business pages and that the
> business pages are all about media and technology. When one was dealing only
> with the cinema, it was possible to imagine and hope that cinema was
> something other than an attention engine mining spectators for capital. Now
> however the monetization of screen-time is fundamental to a vast number of
> business models. As you know, I call this understanding of the transformed
> conditions of value transfer "the attention theory of value." The claim is
> that it supersedes the labor theory of value but reduces to it at sub-light
> speeds.
> 3. If you and I were in the same room, having a conversation, and I were
> saying these same words (and you were interested) you would of course be
> paying attention to me. Even if we happened to be sitting in Starbuck’s your
> attention would still go chiefly to me and not to Starbuck’s, Inc. In
> reading this, likewise, you are paying attention to me, the writer of it,
> and very little directly to your computer screen, to your computer’s
> manufacturer,  to your Internet Service Provider,  to the phone or cable
> company, to thing.net, or even to just to the words. (You read
> Shakespeare, Doris Lessing, or Marx, rather than just books they happen to
> have written. In reading, the publisher is of very little importance to you,
> though the publisher —and others in the distribution channel — possibly made
> a profit when you or someone  bought the book.)  Thus, it is irrelevant that
> attention via the Internet passes through corporate sites or to say,
> articles or blog posts on corporate-owned media. Attention still goes
> primarily to the authors of the individual articles, etc. In general, our
> attention can be thought of as primarily going to other humans  or, at
> times, to ourselves.
> We might not have the same conversation in starbucks as we would "in a
> room" or on a list serve. McLuhan's point, "the medium is the message" (and
> is therefore relatively content indifferent) is not well understood. It's
> not that people don't say stuff. The important issue for him is that the
> medium alters the sense-ratios and this alteration has far-reaching
> consequences that are neither matters of choice, nor matters of
> indifference. As he argues, the Gutenberg revolution, with it's
> fragmentation and standardization of language, was on a continuum with
> Newtonian calculus and (following Polyani) the rise of political economy as
> a semi-autonomus realm exercising its dominion over the social register. It
> was also what was responsible for the rise of individualism and nationalism
> -- the two great givens of the modern conception of history. So maybe we
> think we're just talking, but our blindness to the medium does not vitiate
> its function. Regis Debray's definition of ideology: "The play of ideas in
> the silence of technologies." In other words one must look at the
> technological, and therefore the historical conditions of possibility when
> evaluating a transmission, be it a text-message, a novel, or a nation.
> 4.  It is actually quite difficult to pay attention to a corporation as
> such,  rather than to, say, a particular spokesperson or at times the person
> who motivates the particular actions of the corporation (e.g. Steve Jobs).
> Even TV fanatics are unlikely to watch just a network, as opposed to a
> specific program with a relatively small number of important creators behind
> it. Likewise, who attends or watches a tennis match to see a particular
> brand of ball, racket or tennis clothes?
> This individuation has been analyzed as in my comment above as well as in
> terms of the cult of personality, characteristic of both celebrity and the
> charismatic dictators of fascism. When the compensation for individual
> castration (lack of individual agency, i.e., not enough attention being paid
> to an individual's desire) is secured not through identification with stars
> or with powerful dictators but through an identification with commodities
> (cars, lipsticks, the latest must-have gadget), you get what Baudrillard
> calls candy-fascism, what might be thought of as the individuation of the
> commodity. Debord calls this "the abundance of dispossesion."
> When a corporation’s executives want to attempt to increase sales through
> getting consumer attention, they normally have to go through a complex
> rigamarole, involving for instance the creative people at ad agencies, and
> much more in the same vein. For instance, advertisers try to place
> commercials as close as possible to programs that draw attention; even then,
> they must also try to have the ads themselves be interesting, which often
> has little to do with what is being sold. If the corporation could just get
> attention on its own, why does it not just put its name on the TV screen?
> The point exactly. The programs are actually programs -- programs for the
> capture of attention by capitalists.
> 5. If you have enough attention you can get pretty much whatever you want,
> including but not limited to money, should you want that. An anonymous
> capitalist who loses all her money is out of luck, but a star (read:
> substantial attention getter) if without money, can still  usually get more
> attention and through that a very generous helping hand from her fans (who
> are usually net attention payers). Stars exist in practically all fields,
> from entertainment to more serious arts to academics to sports to politics
> to journalism  and on and  on — including even business.
> So attention is the new value-system, but it works just like the old
> value-system. For the most part, I agree. What is important here is to look
> at the transformations of the value-form, the emergent categories of
> actually existing political economy. These are not a break with capitalism
> but a *developmental result* of its intensification. Its planetary
> expansion outward into the built and formerly "natural" environments, as
> well as its corkscrewing inward into the soul, the psyche, the body, and now
> into the genetic material.
> 6. Without getting at least some attention, a person is likely to fare very
> poorly. Even people without jobs or money, on the other hand, can still very
> often get enough attention to be kept alive. Thus it is a complete mistake
> to think of money as more primary than attention. The money system and the
> attention system are different, but both rely on what is immaterial to allow
> material wants to be satisfied. (You can’t live by eating gold or dollar
> bills or credit cards, after all.) In fact attention is much more intrinsic
> to human existence than money, and thus, once it is possible to seek it and
> obtain it over wide networks, it can easily come to dominate.
> Try getting attention if you don't have capital to invest. I pass people
> begging on the subway far more often than I like, and I'm not the only one.
> I am ashamed to confess that, often as not, I attend carefully to *not*acknowledging my debt to this person as a member of my own species, as a
> relative, a brother or a sister. All too carefully I attend to myself, to
> making sure that I continue to be able to participate in the system of
> socially structured attention and indifference such that I do not jeopardize
> my own well being, or, and this is awful to say, my own sense of my
> entitlement. But when some hottie steps out of the pages of GQ or Cosmo and
> into the train (which doesn't happen too often since most of them take
> cabs), I pay my dues like everyone else, honoring their spectacular
> achievement of self-production and warding off my own abjection. Are these
> non-capitalist relations?
> 7. Now we come to the question of classes. For reasons I will not address
> here, I think Marx was right to suggest each class system  is essentially
> dyadic, with the two classes of each in clear relationship with each other,
> one being dominant and the other dependent. A new class formation generally
> originates in a situation in which an older class dyad dominates.  The new
> classes, partaking as they do at first of the old milieu, at first do
> recognize their own distinctness  and explain themselves even to themselves
> according to the older formation, though not necessarily in simple ways.
> Thus a member of the nascent star class may see herself more as a worker or
> more as a capitalist (that is assuming she gives any thought to such
> questions) and a fan can also identify either way. Further, these
> identifications are not constant. Whether recognized or not, the new class
> system is in conflict with the old, for it relies on building up
> fundamentally different kinds of relations. The combination of different
> identifications and the underlying  conflict lead to complex and changing
> alliances and/or oppositions among all the four classes involved.
> Ken Wark has interesting things to say here in A Hacker Manifesto, as do
> Hardt  and Negri and those who use the sign "multitiude" as a new figure for
> what was structurally "the proletariat." The fact that there are struggles
> within a unified system (the world market) is not, however, a guarantee that
> current forms of subjectification are the pathway out of it. The
> world-market has become expert at creating subjects who fight for market
> niches -- indeed this is a structural necessity at a variety of levels.
> However, one must ask, within this algorithmic system of expropriation and
> hierarchization that necessarily intensifies capital accumulation on one
> side and dispossession on the other, are their progressive strains that
> point to exist strategies, to forms of refusal, or to overthrow? In a world
> in which revolution has become a commodity among others, what forms of
> detournement are possible? This for me is one of the important questions of
> our time.
> 8.If valid, of what value is the foregoing analysis, beyond intrinsic
> interest?
> I think I answered that.
>  A. It facilitates a level of both clarity and nuance in examining various
> key trends and situations that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to
> comprehend.
> B. Recognizing the possibility of a post-capitalist class society open up
> thinking that has in some ways been frozen ever since Marx.
> C. The existence of the attention (centered) economy changes both the
> concept and the understanding of possibility of a basically  egalitarian
> society, of the kind that critics of capitalism are presumably after.
> D. It is possible that in the very complexity of the underlying struggle
> for dominance between the capitalism and the attention (centered) economy
> there might be room for  a new humane socialism to emerge. [See also
> http://www.well.com/user/mgoldh/Technosocialism.html .].[I have argued
> here  http://goldhaber.org/blog/?p=80 that the attention economy is in
> fact increasingly dominant already; the argument is necessarily
> impressionistic, but I think has some heuristic value.]
> Best,
> Michael
> -------
> Michael H. Goldhaber
> PH  1-510 339-1192
> FAX 1-510-338-0895
> MOBILE 1-510-610-0629
> michael at goldhaber.org
> alternate e-mail:mgoldh at well.com
> blog and website: http://www.goldhaber.org
> alternate:http://www.well.com/user/mgoldh/
> alternate blog: http://mhgoldhaber.blogspot.com
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