The Attention Economy – How They Addict Us

hmmm that's not a bad photo Laura posted a new I'll new video from John Olive could all these other video new follower on Twitter view hot takes from the debate last this guy has a Wikipedia page oh he grew up near New York grew up near newest ketchup on instant extra mom text from dad a dad watched this kid shoot a firework at his dad send holy it's been 40 minutes every time I look up after being stuck in my phone like this I know it's going to happen again and most of the time I don't feel great about it this is what it's like being a part of the attention economy in his famous 1997 wired article attention shoppers theoretical physicist Michael goldhaber states that the economics of industrialized nations especially that of the United States have dramatically shifted an increasing number of workers are no longer involved directly in the production transportation and distribution of material goods and instead on their living managing or dealing with information in some form most call this an information economy but he rejects that label by definition economics is the study of how a society uses its scarce resources and with the internet our scarcity is definitely not information any piece of information you want what products should you buy what restaurants should you go to who's this guy all that is literally seconds away so what does gold hopper think flows through cyberspace and is scarce and desirable as he explains no one would put anything on the internet without the hope of obtaining some it's called attention and the economy of attention not information is the natural economy of cyberspace and ease right information consumes our attention making it a scarce resource we only have so many hours that we can glue ourselves to technology and the infinity of information it presents we live in this attention economy where you succeed by getting people to spend the most time to allocate their attention to you or your product and you dominate the economy if you can make people develop a habit where they spend time to get their attention and hold it it's why YouTube videos have titles like this why traditional news sources are struggling and why BuzzFeed is successful it's why politics is no longer so much about policy as it is about who can bring the most attention to themselves or someone else it's why netflix has autoplay why most social networks have an endless scroll look at advertisements from Old Spice or Mountain Dew their commercials are just trying to get you to look at them forget information it's all about relevance don't thank me thank the savings you can't skip this guy go act because it's already over but what about my problem at the beginning of the video lost in the sea of clicking and scrolling around distracting mostly unfulfilled in content surely that's a self-inflicted issue I should be able to close all of these tabs and apps that distract me well it's not that simple social networks run the attention economy they need you on their site constantly to succeed as a business to click and see ads they need your attention to keep this revenue loop open Facebook designs its algorithm to show you everything it thinks will grab your attention your past history scrolling where you've clicked something extremely depressing or uplifting in other words they've psychologically engineered a lot of their websites to literally fight against your brain they want to keep you from closing anything and they're really good at it these social networks have hundreds of years of psychological studies in linguistics sound design and social behavior at their disposal the perfect ding sound the red notification the like the love it's an endless flow of rewarding stimuli that keep you coming back so what is the effect this has on us over the course of a day well that depends on what you want to do with your day and you may be thinking who are you to tell us what's good for humans well I don't mean to be an arbiter of truth or claim to know what's good for humans but this constant distraction has a pretty drastic effect on day to day life take for example a text message it seems like a simple distraction but it undoubtedly breaks our focus on whatever we're doing well a study by Gloria Marc at UC Irvine found that it takes us on average 23 minutes to resume focus after any interruption even worse we do two different tasks before coming back to our original project and every time you're interrupted you self interrupt over the next hour more often than if you hadn't been interrupted now add the fact that we check our phones on average 221 times a day or every 4.3 minutes it's scary in many ways not because you're not getting more quote important stuff done but because you're not necessarily living your life how you want to live your life you're losing the ability to make choices that matter to you we're just living for that quick burst of dopamine that comes from liking swiping and refreshing any feeling of banality or loneliness is quickly replaced by picking up a device or as Louis kay says you never feel completely sad or completely happy you just feel kind of satisfied with your product yes and then you die so it's the combination of these two powerful forces the attention getters and the attention engineers that can be extremely dangerous the dystopian visions of two of the world's greatest thinkers George Orwell and Aldous Huxley I think described this point fairly well what Orwell feared were those who would ban books what Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book where there would be no one who would want to read one Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance as Huxley remarked in brave new world revisited the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite or distractions I think both of these can happen at the same time I think the attention economy relates very closely to Huxley's vision now there are two main actions you can take on this idea that we're descending into Huxley's nightmare you either completely opt out of the system in which case you might be completely overridden with fear from the consequences of unplugging not being in on a joke not being the first one to know something and not feeling caught up with friends or you figure out how to keep the current system from becoming Huxley's nightmare but before we go further on that idea I think we should take a step back I've emphasized the bad stuff about all of this it's not like the attention getters and engineers haven't done a lot of good think of the information that you can get from any number of devices in seconds you can figure out the reputation of a restaurant you no longer need a map in most places you can track a storm immediately and make plans to evacuate your ability to discover new opinions in great art music TV and movies is infinitely higher now than it was before the internet you can tell your friends that you're in an emergency with the click of a button you can invite all of them to a party in minutes one of the most important things social media has done is being important issues to the forefront a lot that have been looked over for a long time we have institutional racism in this country I may change climate change and change and the problem seems to be getting worse and worse more discriminating against gay people is surprisingly legal in much of the country his sentence is insanely short the internet in short has given everyone a voice and that's great we see all of these issues constantly now and our awareness helps us push for policy changes we want to see now a lot of people don't think anyone is close anymore because of the internet I'm on the fence about this one certainly these networks increase our overall number of acquaintances which means a lot more peripheral relationships and small talk and for many there is also a reduction in the quantity of intimate interaction the internet makes it so easy not to go out and do things with friends oftentimes we settle for the online versions of them as writer Andrew Sullivan says we reduce our friends to some outlines a Facebook friend and Instagram photo a text message in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction we become each other's contacts efficient shadows of ourselves but the flip side is that the Internet allows us to be in contact with everyone that's ever been a part of our life and for some of us that's great we can exchange things we like with our friends faster than ever we can share parts of ourselves that may have never come out in person we can talk to friends or family from across the world should any of this technology ever replace in-person face-to-face conversation I'm going to give that a strong no but I'm torn about all of this the attention economy as it is now still causes infinite distractions whether they're good or bad so where do we go from here well for the attention getters and attention engineers will they decide to exploit unconscious human psychology for the eternal loop of revenue and power or will they take a human first approach when rooted in substance respect one that cares about you as a human and not as a source of money that sees your time as valuable and helps you focus on what you want to do and then there's people like me who have to try our best to fight against easy amusement who have to read beyond headlines read long form journalism and get a handle on different areas of study if we don't were chickens for the attention economy one that capitalizes on the uninformed easily emotional individual who gets sucked into things by their basest instincts and of course it's important to unplug every once in a while we have to enjoy the most communal moments as much as we can because the rest of our time is not spent doing those things otherwise we'll keep descending into Aldous Huxley's nightmare living in a world where we see everything but do nothing where we don't spend time how we want to spend it and instead continue to amuse ourselves to death everyone thanks for watching I'm absolutely fascinated by that topic I would love to know what you guys think let me know in the comments I realize how funny it is to make this pitch after this video but if you like my content I would love your support on patreon if all my subscribers pledged $1 I could do this full-time which would be amazing I really care about the work that I do here and


  1. This is one of the best YouTube videos I've ever seen. Thoughtful, careful, nuanced but still with an extremely strong and compelling point of view. Still don't know how to react (other than to subscribe!) but much to think about here. Thank you. -John

  2. Hello, Will.

    Just wanted to take a moment and say that I've been researching on the subject of digital minimalism and happened to find your channel, this video is beyond being resourceful. I'm surprised you managed to cover large volumes of important info only in 11 minutes, providing statistics and your interesting conclusions.

    Also, I was happy to see some content related to David Foster Wallace specifically, as well as any other of your videos.

    Anyway, I appreciate the time you put into your craft – the quality of your work is mind-blowing, just as the narrative/subject matter. I hope you make more content and get popular world-wide because this is a gem of a channel.

    Such work moves us forward and promotes good taste. Good job!

  3. I’m sorry for leaving so many comments but I didn’t realize this video was made over two years ago.
    I am completely stunned and I want to hear about your opinion now.

  4. so then what is the recommendation to use these tools? I only use YouTube! but still YouTube is eating lots of your time! despite that is the most educational one from all other platforms

  5. Thanks for amazing inspiring, I think we've to free ourselves from this tools, many of people are losing their waking hours. Lost consciousness for technology.

  6. This is a great video! How long did you spend working on this video? I would love to learn more about the process.

  7. This is Truth. Jesus is the Truth. Satan is discreet and horribly dark. Look out for the signs of the times. Spiritual warfare is REAL.

  8. Entertainment is nothing other than a roman Empire Colosseum Royal concept to keep the masses distracted and stop them having time on their hands to ask questions and figure out their system their part of. The corporations also profit too so its a win win for them.

  9. I think of it often out here in the world. We live on a planet full of wonders, but so many people stay hidden away in their own little caves and never look up and out. They will pay top prices to sit in a movie theatre and gaze at imaginary worlds, but will light up the night so brightly they can no longer find a dark place to look up into infinity; they will pay $$$$ to walk or run for hours on a treadmill in a stuffy gym, but never take a hike, or even just walk somewhere instead of driving. They will pass through a crowd of people who come from everywhere in the world, places they will never visit, speaking mysterious languages and humming strange songs, with their headphones on and their eyes glued to a tiny digital screen. Wake UP, people!

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