(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr. Find out more at my newsletter.)
The Attention Economy is everywhere. Hits on social media sell ad space. Pundits make stupid statements to get hits and rile voters. Everything is about getting us to look, click, and of course, serve up a few ads or maybe get a donation or sale out of us. The Attention Economy’s architects built it to use us, not serve us.
The result is a pile of data analysis, affiliated companies, shadowy agreements, and optimization. This Rube Goldberg device of attention extraction serves those wanting to make even more money and the few who can get in on the deal. It’s a meaningless edifice for most of us. There’s no there there, just people selling things through ads or wanting to get us to vote in anger.
The pinnacle of this is NFTS, where people burn up the planet to tag ugly art as theirs in what is obviousy a scam and money laundering scheme. There’s no meaning, just people insisting there is until the game of musical chairs catches fires.
Lately, I’ve been digging through old indie radio shows, some going back to the ’80s. There’s music I’ve never heard before and will likely never hear since. There’s witty commentary on the time that’s only more poignant. It’s all so personal, so real, so meaningful to the people at the time – listening to these shows, I felt the enthusiasm so strongly, an enthusiasm I missed.
That enthusiasm, that meaning came from the strong personal feel of the indie music, the skits, and the host’s passion. That connection is too rare in the attention economy. It’s hard to love something when you have to pander to the algorithm, jump on the latest trend, or spew the latest jargon just to get seen. You have to be meaningless to get the attention for things with meaning, and it’s maddening.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve found myself engaging in what’s meaningful to me. Joining activist groups that do things. Engaging with meditative practice more strongly to understand myself. Working on a job that lets me actually do good things. I think this focus wasn’t just due to the pandemic itself, but necessary to keep myself together in the mess of the Attention Economy.
Many of us hope to slow, dissemble, or change the bizarre media mess we’re dealing with. I have some hope for regulation and great hope for engaged citizens. But one thing I can say is we need to focus on ourselves and find what we care about first. That gives you the grounding you need to do the right things – and not get swept away in the latest mathematically calculated fad or outrage.
I want to be as deep into something real as old radio show hosts were into psychobilly from Arkansas or early techno. Maybe by being better grounded, I can help others find meaning as well.