The economy of attention
The phrase that keeps coming to mind as I make sense of the way U.S. society is going is the economy of attention.
These are times of information overload, cacophony of voices, pluralism, multitasking, fragmentation, community, and isolation -to name a few.
It has become an established fact in social psychology that people need attention. Children need attention to develop into healthy, balanced adults.
Everything and everybody is fighting for your attention: your children, your pets, your friends, your twitter friends, mass-media, individual-media, TV, employees.
People and pets will do strange things to get attention: Start a fight, act up.
I’ve been working long hours lately so my cat Pooky gets quite possessive when I come back home. I can’t have a phone conversation without him acting up – the other day, running across the dining table as I was eating and talking on the phone, just to make a point, I’m sure!
So, to quote an Indian English phrase, What to do?!
If you’re in an attention-giving role: Give it. Make smart decisions about who and what needs your attention most. In the long run, in the big picture, is it your Blackberry or your kid?
If you’re in an attention-needing role: Ask for it. It’s OK, you don’t need to fight, act up, attack people just so they will notice you. There are plenty of kind people out there who will sit down to have a loving, heart-to-heart conversation with you. You don’t even have to pay them. You just need to get over your ego and open your heart enough so you can find them.
If you’re in the communication professions (PR, marketing, advertising): Be responsible. Don’t do society a disservice by adding to the cacophony unnecessarily. That’s not going to get you attention. Be smart, be judicious, imagine you have a limited “communication & messaging” account and use it wisely to communicate important, valuable, useful information. Sometimes being quiet will get you attention.
As a college student in Romania, once a year, I’d attend the International Advertising Festival. I’d pay half my monthly income on a ticket to sit and watch back-to-back commercials all night long (9 pm – 5 am). I’ve done this 2-3 years in a row, and guess what commercial got my attention and stayed with me to this day, more than 10 years later? This one stood out among the cacophony of voices, among the visual and auditory assault on the senses:
- Blank white screen.
- Line-drawn piglet shuffles on screeen.
- Stops in the center, stares at you, blinks.
- Text bubble: Why are you staring at me? Go to a museum.
I believe it was an ad paid for by the Serbian Art Federation.