Attention Merchants is a book written by Tin Wu, haven’t read the book but liked the idea so much that I was convinced there is something I wanted to write about it. This is my take on the ever growing debate of technology and human lives.
The amount of money and time spent of today’s world to gain “Human Attention” is so huge that companies like Google, Facebook and others have become in 10-15 years the huge corporations creating monopolies and challenging age old businesses at their very own turfs.
Everyone is becoming a player in this run for garnering attention including me. I dream of one my post becoming viral which may or may not happen. I tried a lot to gain “Google Adsense” access on my blog and got on this highway with my 1980’s “Maruti 800”.
Advertising as we know today isn’t that old and started during the beginning of the 20th Century with print media, radio, movies,television and now web which is so ingrained that your attention can be capture round the clock which has never been the case. Until television the advertisement were not really targeted but now the targeting can be precise because algorithms are watching you all the time. The decision of buying a simple product to a decision of choosing the political establishment can be altered in the favor of someone by bombarding adds, articles, blogs, videos, messages etc. The role of Russian media companies in helping Mr. Trump win the US Presidential elections is being questioned but truth will not prevail this time for sure.
Companies like Google or Facebook now know so much about us that was never possible ever in the history. With such deep knowledge of each and every individual, the extent to which these companies can go capture our attention is unimaginable. And hence everyone who wants attention is using these highways in disparate ways.
These companies have mastered the art of being Attention Merchants and they business model is so successful that the only thing that they need to ensure is this highway is never blocked.
Google making Android OS open for all, Google Maps for free, Facebook making Open Compute hardware open source, Whatsapp messaging for free and slew of products and services that are entwined in the current way of living that their highways are like the German Autobahns where there is no speed limits.
With so many biases that human mind grapples with it very difficult to really calibrate your emotions despite knowing that you are being targeted and decisions being altered. I think the way we can get over this is not going away from it but being in this system and trying to take decision with the knowledge of all these biases and attention seekers all around us.
The sea faring merchants that traded for items like Silk, Gold, Sugar, Spices and what not have yielded today to the merchants who are selling our attention and making immense value for themselves and their customers.
I may seem to the pessimistic guy here, though I realize that technology has helped us in so many ways that has made the life better for all of the humanity. With certain benefits there are drawbacks that we have to deal with. Going away from technology is not the answer but being here and helping to create a system by simple steps like not liking a post that you cannot verify, not forwarding a Whatsapp message that is inflammatory, falling for the targeted advertisements and taking the decisions realizing the fact that there are people all around wanting to influence your call. Simple ways and awareness will help us enjoying the greats of the both worlds.