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Stowe Boyd is a well-known media subversive, and an internationally recognized authority on real-time, collaborative and social technologies. His new blog is Message.
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August 07, 2005

AttentionTrust.org: I Am A Card-Carrying Member Of A Subversive Movement

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Posted by Stowe Boyd

You can see the gleaming new seal in the right margin that signifies that I have been accepted (the 147th member) into the AttentionTrust. However, I had to wander far afield of the domain www.attentiontrust.org to find a clear manifesto for its existence, but I did find it, in a great post by Seth Goldstein at Transparent Bundles, called AttentionTrust.org: a Declaration of Gestural Independence. Seth digs into the philosophical underpinnings of the now au courante notion that we are operating in an attention economy, and therefore, Others may want to exploit attention, and its evidence, for Their ends, rather than ours.

Along the way, he provides a operational definition of attention -- "Attention is the substance of focus. It registers your interests by indicating choice for certain things and choice against other things. " -- and cuts to the chase, pointing out "The reason attention is becoming more important now is that the Internet has enabled the recording and sharing of these choices in real-time."

So, we are denizens of a digital ecology, and every move we make there could be recorded, and monetized.

Seth reproduces Michael Goldhaber's 11 Principles of the New Economy, which dissects the issue at hand adroitly:

  1. Cyberspace is where the new kind of economy comes into its own. Like any economy the new one is based on what is both most desirable and ultimately most scarce, and now this is the attention that comes from other people.
  2. Attention is scarce because each of us has only so much of it to give, and it can come only from us -- not machines, computers or anywhere else.
  3. An economy has to be based on something that is fungible, that is that can be passed along, and one thing about cyberspace -- e.g., the web -- is how conveniently you can pass on attention through hyperlinks.
  4. Not everyone can attract the same amount of attention. Some of us are stars, but most just fans.
  5. The more you pay attention to someone, the more that person is etched in your memory, and the easier it feels to pay still more to her.
  6. So, roughly, your attention wealth = size x attentiveness of your past and present audiences.
  7. Unlike the old matter-based wealth, the new wealth is nothing you can hope to put under lock and key. You get it by reaching out into the world.
  8. Wealth therefore comes to you by expressing yourself fully. The best guarantee you have for attention going to you for what you do is living your life as openly as possible, expressing yourself as publicly as possible as early as possible (hence it makes sense to put out drafts, early versions, so there are witnesses for everything you do.)
  9. Also you accumulate attention through the full extent of your personality --everything that makes you distinctly you and not someone else...
  10. So the new privacy and the old are direct opposite. The new privacy means having no secrets, which you don't normally need to have, because little that was previously shameful or had to be concealed is so now...
  11. What people do demand as privacy now is freedom from having to pay attention, not from being seen but seeing what they don't want to.

Seth then offers the core rationale of the AttentionTrust:

The first move in establishing an open market for Attention was to declare a set of basic rights:

Property: I own my attention and I can store it securely in private.
Mobility: I can move my attention wherever I want whenever I want to.
Economy: I can pay attention to whomever I wish and be paid for it.
Transparency: I can see how my attention is being used

These represent our rights as attention owners. Our attention data is ours, each of us individually. In the wake of the behavior of credit card companies, credit unions and data brokers, it is vital that we recognize our right, and our responsibility, to govern ourselves relative to the use of our private information.

So, I am asserting that I hold these truths to be self-evident, and that here, at Get Real, we will try to figure our what it means. For example, we will not create any attention capture schemes that pop endless browser windows at you if you try to shift your attention by moving off-blog. But more important, we will not amass personal profiles of reading habits, for example -- although we will look at generalized data to determine which posts are most popular and so on.

But I guess I diverge from Goldstein's darkly dystopic view of our digitally connected age, although I do concur that we should regain control of our attention, and the proofs of intention that our digital acts represent: moving from one URL to another, creating a link or a tag, or the time spent scrolling through someone's recent post. His concerns about Google's "post-competition" monopolizing of all the information associated with our use of that company's search engine are well founded. But his linkage of such macroeconomic corporate incursions on our personal freedoms with living a connected life, and his apparent need to reject the continuous partial attention that being connected seems to engender, well, it just doesn't connect. The two are not two parts of one thing. He writes...

I am not sure exactly what attributing full status to a human being looks like on the Internet, but it likely relates to making the value of private gestures public, rather than having them live as secret elements in a black-box algorithm. A few weeks ago I mothballed my Sidekick and decided to live without wireless email for the first time since I got my RIM pager in 1998. The decision was related to my desire to control my attention which had gotten splintered beyond repair in a continuous wireless communication environment.

The two parts of this paragraph -- split at "A few weeks ago" -- are in a sequence, but they don't appear to be related, to me.

I reject the notion that being concerned about Others manipulating the metainformational breadcrumbs we leave behind by traipsing around the Internet also means that we have to adopt a neo-Luddite mindset, and toss our instant messaging clients into the trashcan.

Nonetheless, I think that every thing else that Seth asserts is right on, and that there is a battle to be fought, or else we will potentially lose something critical for the future: control of attention.

The choruses of attention, data, privacy and identity are all converging in one giant conceptual mashup, which stretches from Web 2.0 pundits to members of Congress grappling with identity theft regulation. Lost at times are the basic rights we are fighting for, which I understand to be:

* You have the right to yourself.
* You have the right to your gestures.
* You have the right to your words.
* You have the right to your interests.
* You have the right to your attention.
* You have the right to your intentions.

Join the cause.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Technology


COMMENTS

1. kris on August 7, 2005 01:39 PM writes...

I discovered the Corante site a year or so ago, got really interested in 3 or 4 of the blogs, and recently started commenting - solely in the interest of stimulating some relevant discussion.

I gotta tell ya, tho. For each pearl of a post I've seen at this site, I have to read through what seems like an eternity of abstract, self-engrandizing navel-gazing.

This one is one more example - I can't take it anymore. I'll check back in a few months and see how y'all are doing. Maybe you can find some focus and attract a real audience beyond the relatively small clique that apparently frequents these sites.

And either intercept the blog spam or delete it.

Permalink to Comment

2. Stowe Boyd on August 8, 2005 04:01 PM writes...

Kris -

Yikes; don't hurry back.

Permalink to Comment


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