The Attention Economy

Try not to stare. Go ahead. I love Lady Gaga. This is a newfound love, however. Watching her SNL performance helped me get look her layers of bubbles and Queen-Victoria-on-Acid get-up to notice three things: 1) She can sing her behind off, 2) She can play the piano well, even in a metal orb and 3) I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. In the current pop culture climate, that last fact is more important that the previous two. Of all forms of media, the music industry has always been one of the least scrupulous. Since the payola scandals of the 60s, it has been accepted that talent is not enough to ensure success in the music industry. Perhaps Lady Gaga, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, knew this and understood that in addition to her talent she needed to grab the attention of the public. Gaga is doing what trailblazers such as Elton John, Freddy Mercury (of the band “Queen”) and even Grace Jones did before her; they incorporated high-impact images into their musical art landscape.  Gaga is special in one regard: She is an artist in a time where what is profitable is based on not just what people will spend money on, but what people will view, listen to and otherwise focus on for extended periods of time. In 2010, we have an economy that is based on attention.
One of my guilty pleasures is reading gossip blogs. Although I feel gossiping is against my personal values, something about seeing unflattering pictures of notable people, coupled with captions of conjecture is anxiety-reducing. You read correctly: Looking at other people’s business is like self-medication. I may be stressed at my job, and unsatisfied with the projected direction of my life, but at least no one has an up-skirt picture of me! *Sigh* The world now make more sense, for now. I was looking at the most popular gossip site in the world when I realized: This blogger gets paid every time I look at his site. It’s not like picking up a copy of Star Magazine at the checkout line, reading some of the juicy tidbits inside and putting it back on the shelf. This person makes money every time someone reads his quips about someone’s fashion choices, sees a picture of Misha Barton that he’s drawn a phallus on with MS Paint,  or assigns less-viable celebs “Z-list” status. A recent article about this blogger revealed that he makes $111,100 a month, all made from people going to his site. It didn’t matter if people went to his site to spew obscenities at him, or clicked a link inserted in a twitter campaign to stop following him. He is an example of someone that has made a fortune off of people’s attention, both positive or negative.
Our attention economy is a manifestation of a truth that is centuries old. People who criticize the “Law of Attraction” usually do so because they misunderstand one of the basic tenets of this law: Thoughts become things. Attention makes things larger. The universe doesn’t understand qualifiers like “yes” “no” “more” and “don’t”. It just understands where your thoughts are pointed. The late Mother Teresa understood this when she said “I’ll never go to an anti-war rally, but when you have a pro-peace rally, let me know.” Don’t think about what you don’t want, focus on what you do want. You will never take someone down by posting a picture of them on your blog, writing a scathing article about them, or starting a social media campaign against them. Doing this just makes their existence in your world larger. Aside from the fact that wishing for the ill-fortune of another is the best way to ensure your unhappiness, you could be using your attention to create more of the things you want in your life.
So, how to we save our resources in an “attention-based economy?”
  • Every now and then, check your self-dialogue.What do you spend most of your time talking about, what you do what, or what you don’t want?
  • A special note for people who work in media: Do you spend your time on topics you feel are valuable or do you spend your time trashing those you don’t? If you review music, do you spend as much time pointing out talent as you do wackness? The reason that wackness has flooded the musical landscape is because that’s what gets the most attention!
  • When you feel yourself brooding over a less-than desirable outcome, switch your attention to its more positive counterpart. For example, if I am having an issue with a friend, I may spend some time thinking about the situation, but if a solution isn’t feasible, I switch focus to friends that are more positive, supportive, or otherwise cause less stress. In time, our issue-prone relationships will turn around, and if they don’t, it’s okay, because we’ve put in an order for more positive future relationships with our thoughts.
Whatever gets the most attention will get the most money, energy, and other resources. Our society favors squeaky wheels. It doesn’t matter that the squeaking hurts our ears; these wheels will continue to get the most grease. All we can control is which wheels get our grease. Use sparingly.

5 thoughts on “The Attention Economy

  1. Patrice Berry

    “Every now and then, check your self-dialogue.What do you spend most of your time talking about, what you do what, or what you don’t want?”

    I’m all over this…thanks for your words of wisdom! And I cosign your Lady Gaga assessments – she is onto something, forreal. People are sleeping, she is working it out…


  2. Akua Auset

    As usual, I am impressed with your viewpoint. Thanks for sharing. Awesome!


  3. Margel Overton

    I dig Gaga. Even more when I saw her acoustic videos and realized how talented she was. Occasionally as an artist i worry lest this be the norm. Bubble dresses wouldn’t look good on me. lol.


    1. Free Reeves

      Thanks Margel. I think that she’s naturally unconventional, but as you’ve seen in her acoustic performances, she is talented, but that isn’t enough nowadays. Thanks for reading.


What do you think?