Attention, all Ye Distracted: Understanding the Impact of the Attention Economy as a commodity

This piece by Ms. farheen will help you understand, "The attention economy". It is an emerging field of study that explores the relationship between human attention, or more specifically, paid attention, and the economy.

Attention, all Ye Distracted: Understanding the Impact of the Attention Economy as a commodity
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Attention is a commodity that is in high demand and has become one of the most valuable resources we possess.

With the increased popularity of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices in the 21st century, everyone is connected around the clock to our social media feeds, emails, news alerts, and anything else that catches our attention. This has created a new economy where our attention is bought and sold. Companies can now target us based on the type of content we click on, the time of day that we view it, and even our location.

This attention economy affects us all, not just businesses. We spend our time scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, all of which rely on us staying engaged on their platforms. The attention economy is an emerging field of study that explores the relationship between human attention, or more specifically, paid attention, and the economy. The attention economy can be defined as the set of economic activities that revolves around the capture of, management, and exchange of attention. This includes activities such as advertising, public relations, marketing, content creation, content marketing, and much more. This growing ubiquity of the Internet and information overload created a new economy at the end of the twentieth century: the economy of attention. While difficult to size, we know that it exceeds proxies such as the global online advertising market which is now over $300 billion with a reach of 60% of the world population. Companies now have the opportunity to both sell and capture our attention using increasingly sophisticated algorithms to analyze our browsing habits and consumer behaviour online. The attention economy has changed the way we consume media. It has created a new type of consumer: the distracted consumer.

Understanding how the attention economy impacts consumer behaviour:


The growing complexity of the modern consumer journey has led to an increase in the demands on marketers to engage them in a more meaningful way. Marketers need to ensure that their messages are relevant and meaningful to their target customers as they navigate the customer journey across multiple channels. At each stage of the customer journey, marketers need to create meaningful connections with their customers by using customer data to personalize their experiences and deliver more relevant messages at each touchpoint. According to Salesforce, companies that deliver personalized customer experiences see higher levels of customer satisfaction and are more likely to convert leads into sales and retain existing customers.

In recent years, scientists like Dr. Paul Zak have studied the experiences that induce this immersive state. Scientists have observed that when we pay attention to stories, we encode more into our memory, and good stories tend to do just that. Immersion releases the empathy-enhancing chemical oxytocin in our brains, as Dr. Zak discovered. Storytelling is an immersive activity because it involves both halves of the brain—the right side for language processing and the left for spatial processing. This results in stronger emotional responses and increased empathy for other people’s experiences, which is what marketers need if they are to craft engaging and memorable brand experiences for consumers.

The growth of the Internet and the explosion of social media have fueled the rise of the digital economy and created a shifting landscape in which brands must engage consumers more strategically in order to stay competitive in the global marketplace. Traditional brick-and-mortar businesses have had to adapt their business models in order to thrive in the digital economy, and the proliferation of e-commerce sites and apps has paved the way for unprecedented competition in online retailing. Consumers now have access to a wide variety of products that can be delivered to their doorsteps quickly and easily using their mobile devices. This has led to an increase in the popularity of online shopping, especially among millennials and Generation Z, who spend approximately $2 trillion annually on retail goods and services.


The impact of the attention economy on business models:

The emergence of the “attention economy” has transformed the traditional marketing model by creating new opportunities for companies to connect with consumers and drive brand loyalty by providing them with high-quality content that is relevant to their interests and preferences. Companies that understand how to leverage the power of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver a personalized experience to consumers are well-positioned to succeed in the highly competitive marketplace. With more than half the world’s population now connected to the Internet, companies can no longer afford to ignore the importance of providing an engaging user experience or risk losing market share to their competitors.


The use of freemium business models is becoming more widespread among online retailers as a way of building a loyal customer base and encouraging repeat purchases. Many leading e-commerce companies have adopted this model as a means of acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones by offering free or low-cost basic products and services that encourage them to upgrade to a paid premium version once they have become comfortable with their products or services. This has also led to a shift towards subscription-based models and paid content, as consumers are willing to pay for access to high-quality and personalized content. This shift is evident in the success of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and in the growth of the podcast and e-book markets.

The impact of the attention economy on well-being and society:

Although the rise of the attention economy presents many opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors, it also has significant implications for the wider economy and society as a whole. For example, there is growing concern that the relentless focus on instant gratification and convenience that is characteristic of the attention economy is having a detrimental effect on people’s mental health. Research shows that the constant pressure to be connected is leading to higher levels of stress and anxiety, and there is also growing evidence that excessive screen time can lead to sleep deprivation and the development a range of health problems including obesity, diabetes, and depression. These problems are expected to have a significant impact on people’s health and well-being in the coming years. In addition, the pervasiveness of the attention economy is also having a significant impact on people’s attention spans and cognitive abilities. Research has shown that constant exposure to short messages on social media and other digital platforms is affecting people’s ability to concentrate and process information, and it is having a negative impact on their ability to conduct meaningful conversations and engage with other people in the real world. Addiction  to digital devices has also become an increasingly widespread problem in recent years, and research shows that many people are starting to experience symptoms of smartphone addiction, which is characterised by a strong desire for increased screen time that impairs a person’s ability to function effectively in other areas of their life. These problems are likely to continue to get worse in the future unless action is taken to address them.


In conclusion, the emergence of the attention economy represents a profound change in the way that people are interacting with the world around them. However, this revolution also has some potentially negative consequences that need to be taken into consideration by policymakers and business leaders if we are to avoid them. Therefore, in order to minimise its negative effects on the public and counteract the potential damage that can be caused by the information overload phenomenon, much research is needed to examine this issue in greater detail and identify ways of addressing the associated challenges. Information can be designed to foster balanced media consumption and educate the public on how to counterbalance the harmful effects of information overload by properly utilizing the opportunities afforded by the digital world. By recognising the need for further research into these issues and providing adequate support for research into the information overload phenomenon, governments will be able to address the issues raised by the emergence of the attention economy and work towards creating a healthier and more balanced relationship with digital technology.


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International Monetary Fund. Statistics Dept. (2018). Measuring the Digital Economy. International Monetary Fund.

Zak, P. J. (2015). Why inspiring stories make us react: The neuroscience of narrative. Cerebrum, 2015, 2.