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Bye, Bye Information Economy, Hello Attention Economy!

// Posted by on 04/25/2013 (11:39 AM)

Information has always been a valuable asset. With the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1991, the United States has been in a state of transition to an information economy. Today we are predominantly an economy of information workers;… Read more


Information has always been a valuable asset. With the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1991, the United States has been in a state of transition to an information economy. Today we are predominantly an economy of information workers; they don’t spend their time producing physical goods rather they devote their time to creating, developing, and sharing information. Information professions have emerged left and right; everywhere from computer software production and designing interfaces to cyber-security and even hacking. An information economy is based upon the premise that information has economic value and requires an information marketplace in which such value can be exchanged. But it is changing our economy more than that…digitization and technology has birthed a new economy – an economy of attention.

“By definition, economics is the study of how a society uses its scarce resources. And information is not scarce – especially on the Net, where it is not only abundant, but overflowing. We are drowning in information, yet constantly increasing our generation of it. So a key question arises: Is there something else that flows through cyberspace, something that is scarce and desirable? There is. No one would put anything on the Internet without the hope of obtaining some. It’s called attention. And the economy of attention – not information – is the natural economy of cyberspace.”[1]

“‘Attention,’ write Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun in their 1996 book Rules of the Net, ’is the hard currency of cyberspace.’ They’re dead on.”[2] – think about this, there is a reason that the most successful people and businesses on twitter have thousands of followers and I only have 132. There is a reason that there are now programs to “buy” more followers – attention is what is driving our economy.

On one hand, the attention economy is aiding our economy by making businesses more efficient. “When information is abundant, the false positives are very costly – they are basically deal breakers. Consumers happily leave sites, knowing there are a ton of alternatives out there. Unfortunately, this becomes a lose-lose situation, because if consumers rarely find satisfying experiences then retailers won’t get consumer dollars. The idea behind the Attention Economy is to create a marketplace where consumers are happy, because if they are shown relevant information – then retailers are happy too, because happy consumers spend money!”[3] Think about Ads that are now personally tailored to fit your life, or Netflix knowing which movie titles to recommend. The attention economy is driving a competitive marketplace, and competition inevitably leads to innovation.

On the other hand, the Internet provides free content, and this free content that is competing with pay-for-service content for attention has the possibility to completely change our economic system. Instead of producing goods and services for ourselves or for profit, “we will be producing content and amusement for one another, without engaging in explicit (taxable) financial exchange”.[4] Michael Goldhaber goes even further, saying, “As the Net becomes an increasingly strong presence in the overall economy, the flow of attention will not only anticipate the flow of money, but eventually replace it altogether.”

So what does this mean for our generation and future generations? The article by Michael Goldhaber was written in 1997…is there still an attention economy today? Has it become more prevalent? I would argue yes. In my Lady Gaga course this semester we have studied Celebrities, and how in a postmodern world mediated and driven by screens, whether that be your iPhone, television, or computer, attention, not talent, is all one needs to become famous (take Kim Kardashian for example). I’m not sure what an economy driven only by attention would look like…but it seems to me, with the rapid growth of technology and digital culture meshing with physical culture, that we’re certainly moving in that direction.


[1] Goldhaber, Michael H. “Attention Shoppers.” Wired, December 1997.

[2] Goldhaber, Michael H. “Attention Shoppers.”

[3] Iskold, Alex. “The Attention Economy: An Overview.” ReadWrite, March 2007.

[4] Iskold, Alex. “The Attention Economy: An Overview.”


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