Attention Economy Interlude: A response to questions

I wrote a long comment in response to +Carl Henning Reschke's very insightful questions in the thread linked below. In a few days, I'll be posting the next in my#attentioneconomy series, and people have already spoken up having difficulty following it. Perhaps the comment below will orient the discussion a bit better; the table below may help. You can find links to the attention economy series to date at the end of this post. 

I'm worried that the table makes me look crazy. I asked my peers, and they agreed. I'm posting it anyway. Nyah.


+Carl Henning Reschke You are asking some very deep and insightful questions. I've got my work cut out for me. =)

The most important thing I want to say, if I haven't been clear, is that the flow of attention is a self-organized phenomenon, with each individual acting autonomously to direct their attention according to their own interests and motivations. So the attention economy would actually realize many of the virtues of a laissez-faire model; in fact, I will argue that the dynamics of attention flows are a better model of "pure competition" than capitalist markets. My next post in the series will carefully distinguish between decentralization and self-organization. Part of the problem with laissez-faire economics in Enlightenment frameworks is that they conflate the two. Although money economies are usually decentralized (and capitalists tend to argue against centralization in the form of state regulations), they are usually not self-organized, and capitalists tend to resist self-organization in the form of labor movements and the like, preferring instead to maintain top-down control of the markets and resources. This has nothing to do wih human greed or goodness, this is the way the infrastructure works: money tends to accumulate in a few to the detriment of the whole. An attention economy is both decentralized and self-organized, and it works in a way that isn't subject to this particular flaw. Although attention tends to attract more attention, the payment of attention is entirely at the discretion of the whole. A full discussion of the distinctions will have to wait until the next post, but it's pretty easy to see that hierarchical, top-down structures tend to be unresponsive to bottom-up feedback, which is a sign that these systems aren't self-organized. 

In any case, I'm not interested in making "laws" to enforce certain applications of attention. As I have said, I think simply having attention models available for open, public scrutiny will so strongly suggest courses of action and methods for self-organizing that we will no longer require the forms of organization that both money and laws impose. We already see massive, global efforts in collective, coordinated action without the assistance of either and often rallied against both. This is paradigmatic of the digital age. Encouraging self-organized, decentralized solutions just is to weaken the influence of money and government. Money and government won't just vanish, of course, and I'll talk about how to deal with them going forward, but my goal isn't the universal abolition of either, even if I think that would be ideal. Instead, my goal is to describe the practical implications of attention models, especially for the organizational roles that both money and governance traditionally serve: the management of resources and labor, and the consensus of the participants within those organizations. My goal is just to explain what these models are and how they are useful, as a unified description of the human condition in the digital age. 

We are already building these models, and we are already using them to guide our action. But our best and brightest openly admit to finding the present age confusing, and I think I'm describing a system where the whole fucking thingmakes sense. I'm trying to lay out the view clearly, because it is multifaceted and overturns some of our most deeply held assumptions about the nature of our social order. Indeed, it is a challenge to who we are as a people. I don't take this task lightly and I'm trying to do it carefully. As I said in the first post, I can't do it alone, and hopefully as others begin to appreciate the model as unified they will be able to work out the implications within their own domains and organizations, and begin to think seriously about how to plan for the new systems, and how to successfully transition ourselves off the old ones. Many people are working on these problems already, but their work is disjoint and disorganized and stymied by the existing system; indeed, many have resigned themselves to its inevitability, to the great frustration of their projects. I'm describing a framework for a complete organizational overhaul within which all this disjoint work coheres into a comprehensive and new paradigm. Indeed, we're already engaged in much of this work; I'm simply making sure that we are all clear about what we are doing. That's what I take the job of philosophy to be.

With all of that said, many of your comments (and some questions from others) suggest that the attention economy will recapitulate money, or regress to money, or is otherwise translatable to our current systems of organization. I've tried to explain why this isn't the case; specifically, I've said that attention can't be "stored". That's not a matter of enforcing a "law" in the sense of governance. The fact that you can't store attention is practically a metaphysical truth. It's a law of nature; it's part of the rules of the game and not the kind of thing you have to enforce. The attention your brain produces doesn't and can't get collected or accumulated anywhere else; the attention you paid at time t is simply no longer your attention at t+1; you've already paid it, and the only thing you have to show for it is whatever you accomplished in that unit time. This is related to the fact that you are constantly producing attention, for as long as you are consciously awake. Attention in your brain is not a collection of items; your brain doesn't store attention either, it just pays it out as an inherent feature of the act of its production. Paying attention is the behavioral marker of consciousness; its not a sign of any quantity of things, it is just a sign of being there.

In a money system, labor is exchanged for wages, so presumably you get paid in proportion to the work you do. +Carl Henning Reschke, you argued that money is equivalent to attention, and it would be wonderful if that were the case, but in fact the money system dramatically underrepresents the real value of the attention and labor being done to sustain that system. This isn't an accidental circumstance of today's markets, this is fundamental to the nature of the technology as an organizational framework: you have to be paid money, by someone you work for or otherwise enter into some contract with, and presumably they already have that money to give you. Otherwise, you aren't represented in the markets, regardless of either your labor or your consumption, though you necessarily do both by merely sustaining existence. The attention economy, on the other hand, assumes that labor extends to the very act of consciousness for each individual; you are interfacing with the system simply by being alive. Again, I'm not trying to be metaphysically spooky, I'm just stating a plain fact about how attention works that we all plainly recognize about the digital age. The attention economy tracks users, not buyers or consumers; it tracks page views and followers, not credit card reciepts. Framing digital relations in contractarian terms has been notoriously difficult precisely because the very assumption of social "contract" is grounded on the obsolete Enlightenment model. The attention economy resolves these anomalies in a consistent and predictively useful way by treating the infrastructure itself as the source of the problem, and identifying the infrastructural solutions we are developing in response as being of a unified type. 

I hope this is making sense. I'll pause the discussion here until I finish my next#attentioneconomy post, hopefully this comment gives a better flavor of the view.

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