May I have your attention please!
If you are reading this then my job is half done; you’ve started reading this article.
Maybe the headline piqued your interest; perhaps the accompanying image caught your eye; or maybe you are just procrastinating at work. Either way, it’s an honour and a privilege to have your attention for this fleeting moment.
You see, your attention is becoming an increasingly valuable thing. At any moment of the day there are a multitude of entities vying for your interest; some will be trying to sell you a product or service, others will be trying to educate or inform you and some provide little more than a distraction.
To social theorists, it’s known as the “Attention Age”, an era in which the exponential growth of available information has meant that content producers now have to fight for the audience’s attention.
For example, digital TV channels are being born all the time, advertising billboards dominate our city scapes and devices like the iPhone keep us connected to information streams around the clock.
But of course it’s the internet that’s had the greatest effect on how we access information. The “Information Age” allowed us to get our hands on whatever content we wanted, provided we knew how to use Google. Now, as we move forward into the “Attention Age” it’s becoming less necessary to even search for content; information now comes to us.
A half-completed Google search will suggest relevant results, Facebook automatically targets its advertising towards our interests and YouTube suggests videos based on our viewing history.
Then there are the RSS feeds that deliver content directly to our virtual doorsteps, the businesses that are using “sentiment mining” as a way of appealing to consumers and social networking tools like Twitter that provide us with as much information as we want to receive.
In fact, it’s social networking tools like Twitter that are shaping and defining the internet as we know it today. “Web 2.0” is a period of sharing, of social media and of online communities. It’s an era in which user-generated content is accounting for more and more of the information that we have access to.
Wordpress blogs can be created in a matter of minutes, private videos can be hosted on YouTube, photos can be posted on Flickr and songs can be uploaded to MySpace Music. With a multitude of publishing platforms like these, and an extra 100 million people using the internet every year, the amount of available online content is growing at an alarming rate.
Luckily, there are ways that we can make sense of this abundance of information. Programs like TweetDeck and HootSuite have made it easy to organise our social networking, the recent launch of Flipboard will add another string to the iPad’s content-management bow and content aggregators like Google News provide access to multiple sources of information from one central location.
But just as the Attention Age has seen consumers become more information-savvy, so content producers have needed to be smarter in order to attract, and sustain our interest. Articles online need to have punchy titles and be as visible as possible to search engines, new TV shows need to sell themselves in a 30 second commercial and film trailers need to catch our eye as we sit in the cinema, waiting for our film of choice to start.
After all, we are starting to get pretty good at filtering out the vast multitudes of crap that compete for attention in our everyday lives. There is far too much interesting content out there for us to waste time on stuff that isn’t important to us. In fact, there’s any number of other things you could be doing with your time right now.
Thanks for your attention.
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