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The economy of the attention ensures a world of mediocrity

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We live in a world of mediocrity. We are more than ever bombarded with stimuli of all kinds and our brains are about to explode. We are hardly able to concentrate on one task at a time and are constantly switching, in the most inefficient way, from one task to another. When a text message or an email comes in, we can’t resist to grab our smartphone and connect back to our digital self. The next time you are in a meeting or give a speech, look at how fast the first participants grab their cellphone. It’s usually only a matter of minutes.

As a consequence our attention has become a very scarce resource that brands, marketers, advertisers and companies of all kind try to steal from us (that’s the so-called “economy of the attention”). Because we have become unable to focus, the best way to catch this attention, they found, is to serve us no-added-value low-cost easy-to-consume content. Just have a look at the most popular videos on YouTube. It’s a disaster. Next to simplistic speeches by Donald Trump, what YouTube recommends me are LOL cats videos, trailers for the next US blockbuster, a mentos-in-a-coca-bottle experiment, …

Rest assured, you won’t need to think much when watching those videos. It’s actually hardly likely that you’ll use more than one neuron to enjoy those masterpieces.

Because our brain and our senses are triggered all days by too many cues, those videos fulfill a very important function: they help us remain “active” within the digital world, yet without consuming too much of our precious attention. They offer us a pause in the digital world we refuse to escape from.

Videos are not the only type of format to exploit our human deficiencies and our digital adduction. Look at articles. The most popular ones are text-poor and provocative-pictures-rich. Actually the most elaborated part of popular articles on the web are their titles: “10 men that you wouldn’t believe could exist”, “Those 5 celebrities lost all their money and became homeless”, “you won’t believe what this squirrel found when entering this tree”, …

The last bit of our attention is stolen by the title while eye-catching videos and pictures propel us in a vortex of mediocrity, a black hole that efficiently ensures that we squander our time and learn nothing. This mediocrity has even invaded more professional-oriented networks like Linkedin (which makes my fellow blogger Bruno Fridlansky mad) : how often do Linkedin users see non-professional-related matters in their threat, yet liked and commented thousands of times ?

What I’m describing is actually a vicious circle. The more we consume of this shit, the less attention remains for the rest and the less qualitative future videos and texts are likely to become.

Before he passed away, former French socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard, gave an interview to Le Point (a right-wing-labelled weekly magazine). He said the following:

“To lead a Society you need to understand it. However, we are unable to understand it anymore [… We neither give us the time, nor the content to understand it. The press sector follows the trends of continuous information, TV and internet … the system’s goal is to entertain. How can we, in those conditions, understand the Middle-East or the economic crisis? The world of knowledge doesn’t produce interdisciplinary knowledge anymore, sociologists don’t work with economists, who have few or no contact with politicians”

How we escape this black hole I can’t tell. But I can tell you one thing. If you read this article, it probably means that you are concerned about what I’m describe and that you’re ready to do something to change. Start by leaving a comment below.

Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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