Attention to…

Your attention is now a commodity.

This is not a new phenomenon. For example television ratings and advertising are linked. If the right people are watching at the right time then the adverts, sponsorship etc are sold at the price to matches the viewers ability to pay. Newspapers and magazines are also designed to sell audiences to advertisers. Your attention has always been valued but the rise of the online world has changed the way this works.

One of the great freedoms enjoyed by the consumer under the old system was that he or she could always switch paper and programmes and in that sense could always demonstrate a kind of independence. But in the new online world all activity is monitored and monetised. As a result the choices we make come to constitute us in a very cold but accurate way. 

But a more frightening feature of this new environment is that our autonomy as consumers is less in evidence as we are steered towards whatever else determine our choices. Book deals, programmes and reading materials all seem tailor-made for us because in a sense the clues were there in our previous choices. Far from being in a wider world we are shaped and identified by what we have chosen to watch, buy, review.

As a system it makes sense to read us in this way. But it can also be a means of determining us and even making us collaborators in how we come to be known.

If we are always on then how do we identify ourselves away from our choices? Where is the space between what our actions have indicated and what we might think of ourselves away from these actions? Where does our authenticity reside in all this? Is even asking questions about authenticity a relic from the past when such ideals seemed possible? 

Your attention is also directed towards the myriad surveillance cameras – seen and unseen – which are there to protect us of course. Our understanding of the location of such cameras may determine our behaviour but this also has to be connected to how our attention in this regard could be used to judge us: are we compliant or do such devices mean little to us. What sort of person would be so reckless? What else do they do? Perhaps they need tracking… 

Never before has the question ‘are you paying attention’ had such import.