Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Internet for Intimacy and Revolutionary Attention Economics

Stefana Broadbent delivered a short and easily overlooked talk at TED in July of 2009. In this talk she argues that the internet, and all of its ancillary parts (cellphones, webcams, VOIP, etc.) are not causing people to cocoon themselves and cut off from others, but are instead being used to maintain connections to family members in environments that have traditionally been family free zones.

The "workplace" has become the opposite of the "private" or "social place" the employer has grown accustomed to the employee having undivided attention on the task set before them. But now the work/private divide that has grown up in the last 150 years is being short circuited by the convergence of social technology and the desire of people to connect with the people that matter in their lives.

Puran Lucas Perez, a resident of nearby Ontario, commented on the talk in a way that sparked an idea. He wrote:

Your talk seems to point beyond social transformation to a new revolutionary attitude; one not focused on overthrowing anything, but on 'self-determining attention'. Since action naturally follows attention, will this not enable us increasingly to give our hands and hearts to the things that really matter to us?

For those unfamiliar with the idea of Attention Economics, quickly and basically (and from wikipedia) "Attention economics is an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity, and applies economic theory to solve various information management problems."

So in the world of Attention Economics, Stefana Broadbent is a V.I. Lenin or perhaps a Karl Marx, proposing the insidious, anti-capitalist idea that people be allowed to "spend" their attention maintaining their social spheres in the time and place traditionally given over to the capitalist. She specifically draws attention to a fact that is obvious to anyone who has ever worked a crappy job, the desirability of a persons job is directly related to the amount of attention they are allowed to give over to their social sphere. So, while it's probably OK for the CEO to spend an hour talking to his daughter in the middle of the day, a worker on the factory floor is not allowed to engage in this social activity because she's "on the clock" or "in the workplace" and so on.

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