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.
  • Oinks.
  • 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.

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3 Comments

  1. I agree with what you have to say about attention. There are so many things that compete for our attention, and so often, we are forced to divide our attention among those numerous things. If you try to multitask when you should be giving your full attention to something (like convincing yourself that having the TV on really does help you concentrate on homework), your attention is divided and you end up performing inadequately. When it comes to the communication field, I agree that it is best to speak only when you have something important to say.

  2. […] 16, 2008 at 10:29 pm · Filed under Blog Comments I commented on Dr. V’s PR Connections blogpost about […]

  3. Dr. V,
    I find this post very interesting. Everyone always complains they are so busy that they just “don’t have time”. I don’t think a lot of people realize that it is okay to sit down, turn off your computer, your phone, and your mind to the outside world and just be. This summer, I was on a road trip with one of my best friends, we of course ended up getting lost and both of our phones died at the same time. It was hot and we pulled over to get air conditioning and food. Never have I felt more content and unbothered, we just sat there exchanging roles between the attention-giving and the attention-receiving individuals and it was marvelous. Thank you for bringing this up, I quite enjoyed the picture of Pooky too!


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