Have you ever wondered why Youtube does not bill you for consuming their content, or perhaps Facebook for using their technology to maintain a virtual life?
But we have always heard that "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch." So, what are you really paying for such consumption? It's your "attention" that you pay.
Your attention is being exploited for generating billions of dollars in revenue for tech giants like Facebook and Google. And all this is happening in the attention economy, a concept not many people are familiar with.
The global economy is experiencing a transition from an industrial economy to an attention economy. In this era of endless flow of information available at your fingertips, information-based careers are emerging.
Although sometimes this new state is given the name 'information economy,' a more appropriate term would be 'attention economy' because economics is the study of how a society uses its scarce resources, information is not scarce - especially on the Net, attention is.
Psychologist, economist, and Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon coined the term 'attention economy.' He noted that "a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." When you scroll through your mobile screen, you are flooded with loads of information and it is almost humanly impossible for you to pay attention to all the information. Your attention is not abundant. It is a scarce resource, just like money.
No matter how brilliant a multitasking person you are, you can't be focusing on so many things at a time. While paying attention to one thing, we ignore others.
In the traditional economy, there is inequality of wealth among individuals. Likewise, in the attention economy, there is inequality of attention. Cristiano Ronaldo has 287M followers (and counting) on Instagram, which is more than the population of all but three of the ten most populous countries in the world.
People are desperate to get attention as it is a fundamental human desire. Also, money follows attention, but the reverse is not always true. The more attention you get, the more inner peace you feel and if you are thinking of making some money out of it, you got it! The statistics of likes, comments, shares, and subscribers are crucial like anything for "attention-shoppers."
How many times have you logged into Facebook for something, but you got hooked on scrolling the news feed aimlessly and ended up forgetting the actual purpose? Or maybe you have a very important task to be done, but you can't help yourself from watching YouTube content.
Do you know that your smartphone knows you almost as well as any of your close ones? According to the app RescueTime, people spend, on average, about 3 hours and 15 minutes every day on their phones. The more screen time you have per day, the more attention you are "paying," which is the new currency in this age
It's because both the interface and your journey in these platforms as a user are designed in such a way that holds your attention and stops you from going away. The algorithms are developed in a way that shows you tailored content. Businesses that are operating on a business model based on customers' attention are doing nearly everything to capture your attention.
Do you know that your smartphone knows you nearly like any of your close ones? According to the app RescueTime, people spend, on average, about 3 hours and 15 minutes every day on their phones. The more screen time you have per day, the more attention you are "paying," which is the new currency in this age.
According to the New York Post, people check their devices, on average, 80 times a day, whether it's a WhatsApp message from a friend, an email from a professor, or a Slack message from a colleague.
A study by the University of California Irvine found that it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back into the flow once you've been interrupted. So even just a quick look at your device can have an enormous impact on our focus.
Since we're constantly distracted by the notifications, it's almost impossible for us to create the environment for concentrated 'deep work,' which results in real output and work satisfaction.
This age of attention economy presents some new challenges that the new generations must face. Our parents had to learn how to best utilise their time-management and problem-solving skills in order to take advantage of the knowledge economy.
The members of "Gen Z" must learn to master their focus and self-awareness to properly take advantage of the attention economy. They should have full control of their attention as it is being treated as the currency of the new state of the economy.
In his book The Virtual Community, Howard Rheingold writes, "rule number one is to pay attention. rule number two might be paying attention to where you pay attention."
Shaugat Ashraf Khan is an undergraduate student of economics at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.