There are a number of scientific and technological advances that are showering our generation with information and communication channels the likes of which we could barely envision only a decade ago. When you stop to consider that your average smartphone contains more processing power than some of the Apollo capsules, or that over 90% of the US population has a mobile device, or that over 70% of US households have access and regularly use the internet, you can see quite quickly that we are in a hyper-connected, always-on world.
Further, consider the content available to us. With the advent of Twitter, blogs and other self-published media, on top of a healty commercial publishing industry, we have access to a tremendous amount of content that is constantly being refreshed. Moreover, due to the decreasing cost of storage and retrieval, we can now access far more content and watch what we want to watch, whenever we want to consume it.
So, we enjoy the blessings of a highly connected society, where anyone is really only a few links or relationships away, through LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, and any content you could possibly desire is available almost on demand. And, increasingly, with the advent of mobile and 3G/4G and Wi-Fi, available anywhere. We suffer from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to connectivity and content.
What this means, however, is that attention will become the new currency. In an interrupt driven world, the fact that you access my content doesn't mean very much if you skip right through it never to return, or if you fail to recall who published it or who sponsored it. Science is already demonstrating the the use of the Internet and hyperlinks in particular is re-wiring our brains, making us less likely to recall information from these various content portals. Increasingly, there are two important factors to consider. One from the perspective of the publisher and one from the perspective of the consumer.
As a publisher or creator of content, I want you as the consumer to value my content, return to it and to other content I create and perhaps to share in the development of that content with me. I want to drive you to know, do or believe something with my content, and perhaps make some money with that content. I can't do any of those things without your full attention to my content. Given the breadth and availability of content, I have to be able to attract you to my content, and keep your attention here, now, in my content rather than have you skip away, constantly interrupted or distracted by newer, shinier content. That's a pretty steep hill to climb, especially for those of us in the "text" world of blogs and other written publications. Nothing flashing, no sound effects. So we publishers face a daunting task - how do we communicate ideas that matter and do so effectively in a world increasing driven by interrupting and overlapping communications?
Second, as a consumer of content, my attention is valuable. Perhaps we need a new currency, less based on number of "eyeballs" - remember that one from the turn of the century? Perhaps the new currency is on latency and absorption. Does your material cause me as the consumer to pay attention, to stay engaged, to ignore the other flashing symbols? Does your material cause me to retain your ideas and be able to espouse them effectively?
Richard Florida and others suggest that the "Creative Class" is increasingly important in our economy. If the "Creatives" are valuable and generate new ideas, new products and new trends, how do the rest of us identify, understand and consume those trends if we are so distracted and consumed with all of the available content? Does Ashton Kutcher's current status on Twitter really add anything to the discussion? Sure, Stephen Hawking has a Facebook page with 120,000 fans, but do they stop long enough to try to understand what he is saying?
In older business models we'd strive for brand awareness, brand loyalty. In the near future I think we'll strive for mere attention, latency and absorbtion of a message. Perhaps we'll be able to sell our attention to others - rather than have advertisers interrupt our favorite content, perhaps we'll have them bid for our attention and time.