Attention Economy

Where has our attention gone? What do we pay attention to?

What do the big businesses in the global world (such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Nike) want from us? The first thing these businesses want is our attention. Just like in the classroom, if I want to explain an important grammar point, the first thing I'll do is bang on the whiteboard and yell 'Quiet. Listen.'' I need to get your attention before I give you an important message.

So it is with big business. We are now living in an Attention Economy. Global businesses compete for our attention. Read the abridged (=shortened) article below and complete the sentences with NO MORE than TWO WORDS from the reading.

  1. Before the ___________, the majority of people were primarily concerned with land and land use.

  2. With industrialisation, the important element in the production process became human ___________.

  3. In the 20th century and the arrival of consumerism, _________ became the valued commodity as people now had an abundance of choices.

  4. Advertising and ___________ became critical as a way for people to make decisions about what products they would consume.

  5. As the internet created an abundance of constant and easily accessible _________, the most important factor became people's attention.


For most of human history, the big economic scarcity in the world was land. Most people spent their lives contemplating what land they were going to work, what they were going to grow, what kind of harvest to expect, and so on. Food was always on the top of people’s mind.

Eventually, when the industrial revolution hit, the primary scarcity was no longer land, as machines could now help cultivate more than enough food for everybody. Now the big scarcity was labour. You needed trained people to run all of these machines, so for a couple hundred years, the organizing principle in society was based on labour — who you worked for, how much you made, and so on.

Then, in the 20th century, there was more being produced than any one person would ever need or could ever purchase. The new scarcity in society was no longer labor or land, the scarcity was now knowledge. People had so many choices of what to purchase with their hard-earned money, but they didn’t know what to purchase. The fields of advertising and marketing were invented and came to dominate society, as they were the means of disseminating the information people needed to allocate their resources appropriately.

With the advent of the internet, the primary scarcity in society is no longer information. In fact, there is now more information than any of us could possibly know what to do with. If you want to know about a new product, you can have the Wikipedia article and 500 Amazon reviews up within 10 seconds. If you want a refresher on the process of photosynthesis, you can have it figured out within a few minutes. If you need to know every actor Kevin Spacey has ever worked with, you can figure it out in mere seconds.

The scarcity in our world is no longer knowledge. There’s an abundance of knowledge, just as there’s an abundance of labour and an abundance of land.

No, the new scarcity in the internet age is attention. Since there is a surplus of information, more information flowing through our society than any of us could ever hope to process or understand, the new bottleneck on our economy is attention. We now live in an attention-based economy.

This is why today we are each bombarded with over 3,000 advertising messages per day. This is why these advertisements get crazier, louder, more colorful and and more nonsensical — because the goal of advertisements is no longer information but simply attention.

This is why social media is plastered with ridiculous article headlines such as, “I Thought I Was Going To Die, But Then You’ll Never Believed How This Polar Bear Saved My Life,” and when you click it, it takes you to a series of stupid animated GIFs or a YouTube video that has nothing to do with polar bears but is instead covered in advertisements.

The quality of that attention doesn’t matter. What matters is the attention. That attention is an asset, the most valuable asset in the new economy.

This article is a much edited version from

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