The Attention Economy

The Attention Economy

It is no mystery that the modern social media platform were designed to be addictive : the more we consult them the more they get fueled by data, thus growing smarter and bigger more than ever.

This global and massive interest to these platforms spurred the apparition of the attention economy : Our focused mental engagement became the new gold in the age of information abundance. Herbert A.Simon, an American economist, political scientist and cognitive psychologist, highlighted this in “Designing organizations for an information-rich world” by saying that “the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes.” And information consumes our attention, a resource we only have so much of it.

Woman sitting on a bed shaking her head backwards while books are flying around her

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

According to a report from the GWI that highlights the daily consumption of social media, we are spending an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes on social media and messaging platforms daily. But the preoccupying part is that we only spent 1 hour and a half on these platforms 7 years ago which can be justified by the fact that these platforms grew more intelligent over time by studying the mind and the behavior of their users and applying the consequent results to their platforms.

One concept to know is called Variable-ratio schedule. To put it simply, it suggests that the reward is given after an unpredictable number of responses but averages out a specific number. This is clearly implemented in slot machines, as the player ignores the number of games (1,2,7 or even 1000) to play before obtaining a reward, which leads to a high response rate and a strong engagement of the latter.

Knowing this, what can we do to make things change for the better ? It seems that we can take action in order to make things change, and what I suggest is to progressively migrate to open source social platforms, which I believe will consider the humane aspect of technology more than any private company in business.

A first initiative is Pixelfed, a photo sharing platform which is ad-free and privacy focused, which means that no third party is willing to make profit out of your data. The posts are timely ordered which means there is no distinction in content. A second initiative is called Okuna, an open source privacy friendly social network. It is commited to being a positive influence on society and the environment, plus it donates 30% of its profits towards worthy causes. A third and last initiative is Mahara, it is an open source web application to build and share electronic portfolios. It is customizable and can be integrated to other web services.

In order to show you how interesting these initiatives are getting, I propose to offer you a tour on Pixelfed, the most attractive open source alternative to Instagram. To join the network, you can either join one of the available servers on the list of instances, or you can run your own by following this tutorial.

A tour of pixelfed

The project is ongoing and needs the community’s support to grow bigger. Feel free to check their Github page for more information about contribution.

If you want to know more about the impact of the attention economy on our lives and engage for a positive change, I recommend you to take a look at HumaneTech, an organization willing to bring the humane part to technology. The aim is to spur for a change that will protect the vulnerable human instincts from being exploited thus building a better society. And as Sonya Parker said : “Whatever you focus your attention on will become important to you even if it’s unimportant.”, so let’s focus on building a better world for all.