August 28, 2006

The Attention Deficit Economy


The most annoying marketing buzzword of the week is “Attention.” Not a new theory, the Attention mantra has been regaining traction among blogworld marketers who propose control of Attention as the Brand New Promise for Internet citizens and the New Brand Promise for the businesses that serve them.

The payoff for paying attention to what Internet travelers pay attention to is apparently twofold: 1) paying attention to what consumers are paying attention to and why makes businesses smarter (i.e., more money now), and 2) holding customers’ attention long enough to fully engage them stitches a hyperlink directly from the business’s URL to the knotty little skull of the consumer, making him a Customer For Life (i.e. more money in the future).

God truly is good, is he not?

My stepfather once worked as a Managing Director at the same firm where I was Director of Corporate Communications. The CEO ran a brainstorming session (corporate dysfunction signal number one) one morning on rejiggering our mission statement. My stepfather came up with: “To make more money now and in the future.”

The management team rejected that one, but I rather liked it.

Although this attention thing sounds a little good and a little creepy at the same time, it is essentially as it always has always been: anyone concerned with what you’re paying attention to is out to make money off of you. Trying to paint attention monitoring or tracking or trust or what have you as anything other than that is dishonest. You and I are not that important. No one, I mean no one, besides a suspicious mate cares what you pay attention to online unless they’re looking to divorce some bread from your wallet.

And what’s wrong with that is not admitting it is the truth, but rather, painting it as new movement, an alternative, a new way.

If I appear skeptical it’s because I’m on steroids and I’m over 40. These things happen.

Attention and Gestures, which are now inextricably linked, got a dose of Heroin recently when AOL did the dastardly deed of releasing guzumpteenthousand individuals’ search records in such a way that it wasn’t hard to tell that Granny has a penchant for strap-ons.

Mary Hoder explains it this way: “The AOL data which lumped each user's searches together with a user ID over three months, making profiling and finding them easy, meant that AOL provided enough data in some cases to indicate a lot about who the data related to very specifically. Leading to judgments by the rest of us. About the people who do or think things on the edges of society.”

I’m with Mary up to the very end, where she says: “About the people who do or think things on the edges of society.” Because I don’t think that we can tell where the edges are from search results. My data does not define me. My search is not my gesturing 60 percent of the time--maybe more. I don’t think that search = attention. Sometimes search = anti-attention more often than not. Especially as Internet users become more at home online and start to rearrange the furniture.

Lots of times, what we seek is not what we are looking for, and where we end up is really not where we cared to go. Hyperlink does not always equal intention. Again, the accidental, the speed and simplicity of discovery, is what makes the Internet NOT like real life.

But more on “attention” and “gestures” and “search," "intention," and “data” and why I think so much of this stuff is New Age Internetism designed to make giving away your money feel better. As I said, attention is not intention. I can assume that the person who paid attention to my blog for the fleeting seconds it took to get here today by searching Google for “Great Dane Doberman Mix" was looking for something. I can't tell whether that something was to find a home for one or to fuck one.

Two very different customers. Two very different attention fulfillment requirements. And many, many, many opportunities for savvy marketers to sell you consulting services around the variations therein.

Queue Seinfeld: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Unless your expectations are around context and intention, around making meaning, not making purchases.

Methylprednisolone tablets USP 4mg, Day 2, 20mg.

Glorious ADD.

The Internet is where we are free to dissociate. You cannot put a value on my lack of attention.

I will say here, in closing, that what I think I am getting at is that the Internet most important distinction is its exquisite function to enable distraction, not to track attention. That the accidental come-upon-ness of the obscure and viscerally meaningful can evoke mere milliseconds of joy or horror individually which has relevant commercial value to precisely nothing.

THAT is what’s important. And that your Snakes on a Plane is my e.’s ghosts.

No formula for the value of obscurity and accidents, rather increasing disproportionately in fits and starts.

It takes getting to know me. ME. YOU.

The most meaningful online relationship with one sometimes come from the unknowing of someone else, and in the unknowing of one, discovering the other.

What matters is often not the gesturing, but in the de-gesturing; it is not attention then, but repulsion. It becomes too convoluted to calculate, which way my attention flows, because it is neither linear nor accountable, except for total on the invoices of some mighty consultants.

More and more, my gestures reflect not what I am paying attention to, but instead are sideways related to what I’ve dropped my illusions about. In surrender of control, then, not in clinging to it, we wander here. We value most those instances of delight so fleeting that they are the opposite of thought and reason; they are out of time; they scatter us to the wind rather than draw us in.

They repel us outward, until we are untraceable, exiled, free, and only in knowing me severed will I tell you how you can find me whole.

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