Attention Economy: marketing in the Social Media Era

Attention Economy: marketing in the Social Media Era

Time is the most precious resource that we own, everyone wants a piece of it: owners, friends, family and Facebook. Time is anyway a discussed topic even in the science, and a lot of scientists in modern physics claim that it is possible that time itself neither exists nor it is nothing more than a human convention. But still, we live in that human convention, so time is regulating our lives and relationships from work to the most friendly times. Clocks everywhere; smartphones, city buildings, churches, working place, and everywhere. So now we have to manage it very carefully, we need to be on time, we have to pay attention and not to lose it!.

Time is a scarce resource, companies elaborated on new strategies to get as much money they can from the production of contents that keep us spending our time on. Keeping our eyes on the screen is the main goal of companies in the era of social media; click-baiting, fake news, short and useless video such as “Look at this cute cat”. According to Dorian Peters on Medium “Attention is a finite resource: 7.7 billion people on the planet, only conscious for about 16 hours a day, can provide full attention for 123 billion hours. Bear in mind that work, sustenance, human contact, and some basic hygiene have to fit in there as well”.

Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are trying to build and promote products in order to get our attention, something we can not resist to click on, to watch or read. The best content creators are the ones who are good at breaching our emotional sphere with something that can hurt our common sense, or with something that it fits with our thoughts and feelings.

So the main problem of the attention economy is that as many products we consume, as less attention we will have for the probably more important things we have to take care of. It is nice to watch a video, to answer an email or to spend our free time on memes, but are we sure that it is making our life worth living? According to recent researches, we spend years on the social media, posting, commenting, chatting, interacting, and as far we could spend that time better, like joining in cultural dialogue, starting a protest to claim for a more equal society, learning a musical instrument, read a book, or walking.

That, of course, is not what a Social Media Company wants, because as many views and traffic on the website, as much money it will receive from advertising companies. Also, if these platforms are new, the functioning of them is more or less the same as the old Audiometer system, introduced in the U.S. Television in the 60’s.

To be clear, when the TV came to be a Mass Media, the Advertising Industry started to invest in it a lot of money, until they annoyed us with hours of spots in the middle of that movie or that TV show. But of course, the free market is a risky place, and so you have to know where it is more convenient to place your advertising if you do not want to waste money. So the Audiometer was this little device installed inside the television which measured the audience of TV shows, helping the industries to know: when and where advertising could be more effective. At that time the data were not so precise, but now with algorithms collecting every single information coming from the users.

Artificial Intelligence developed by Google and other IT companies, now knows exactly which product will be best to sell to the exact user, providing customized internet researches filtering the contents basically on a profile based on your previous researches, likes, comments, and views. Resist to the catchy advertising, to the suggestions is more difficult because with a smartphone always on your hands scrolling the Facebook, Instagram or Youtube feeds, you will always find something it will catch your attention, which also means feeding the need of data of the Algorithm.

Writing this section is probably difficult because there is no real answer to this problem. Everyday life in this era is characterized by connection: we have WiFi at home, we have WiFi in the office, we have a mobile connection when there is no WiFi. Having customized internet researches is not even that bad. it is useful to find good results for first, it is also comfortable to discover a new song or movie that fits with our taste, it is good to have a way to reach people in our country when we are far from home, it is nice to meet new people in a Facebook group which can share with us ideas and content.

So probably the best thing to do is to find a balance between the time we pass surfing on the internet and the time we spend in the world outside our computers and screens. It is not that easy task, the society we live in gives us a lot of stress and frustration we try to anesthetize with the compulsory use of the social network. Sometimes we are so lazy and sad that the best way we find is to spend our free time just watching, commenting and posting or listening to a sad song in that playlist. But maybe we could realize that sometimes we can do the same activity with the person which is sitting next to us, maybe we can explore our city for real and not just in the VR maps, and probably we go to that event we put a “maybe” on Facebook.

Antonio Sciuto

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