Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"May I have your attention, please"

Attention... Some want it. Some need it. Some give it. Some don't.
...and, yes, the mere existence of this blog puts me in category one, I guess.

An interaction with my 7-year old son brought up this whole stream of thought... He and my nephew were making impressive noise right at our feet while we were trying to have normal adult conversation about something which was completely irrelevant to the lives of these two resourceful first-graders. They decided that blowing a whistle and banging a drum – loudly – was the best way to get our attention. At first I treated the noise as part of the persistent, expected din you find in any house with kids. Then I realized that I was practically yelling to make myself heard, and finally shouted to them, “ENOUGH!... “ (hey, that worked). Followed by the gently delivered comment that every sensitive father must learn: “Please. Stop blowing that whistle or I really will crush it”.

“We’re just trying to get your attention!”.

I have to give them points for honesty and awareness - it's usually much more sub-conscious than that.

It struck me later that “getting attention” might be more a basic human need than just a phenomenon of competitive commercial coercion (although the latter is much more common). And now that web-based social networks have finally become recognized as potentially a more effective attention channel than others - here come the herds.

(this post grew pretty long... click here to see the whole story)Any business marketer, advertiser, publication, author, blogger, entrepreneur, actor, musician, politician, even Uncle Arnie is looking for anyone who will listen (“ know why oil prices will never go lower? I’ll tell you why...”). And while most of us play both parts – attention seeker and attention giver (or withholder), we walk through life now being blasted from every angle with people blowing their whistles or banging their drums.

So we invent filters, methods, channels, for optional listening. Specialized cable channels, Syndicated feed readers, NetFlix, podCasts and iTunes. On our social networks, it's our circle of friends and connections which (apparently) "control" the flow. And attention-seekers invent new ways to blast us. Spam, Pop-ups, elevator video screens, billboards, even street performers. So, while the attention market is mostly based on gaining customers, there are three other goals at work here...

First, friend seekers. Date-seekers in many cases, but also the likes of Uncle Arnie, looking for people to agree with him – to find people who share his view, trying to get attention in small ways, maybe just to prove to himself that he’s right or to get some recognition that he is smart – or hopefully, looking for more diverse opinions which can help him refine his own ideas.

Second, fight seekers. Like that dude at the party who moves from group to group just waiting to find someone who disagrees with his theories so he can more loudly describe them (after all, it’s hard to justify telling people your detailed theories when they already agree. It’s more fun for this category of person to try to convert others to their cause).

And third, is a common one: Fame. There’s a high degree of respect given to those who become famous (even ignoring, I think, the potential monetary value of such fame)... and, therefore, there’s a powerful draw for people to win the kind of attention that brings fame. Like the guys from that show ‘Jack Ass’, who, week after week, would risk personal harm, humiliation, and hatred just because that was their best devised shot at becoming famous (which, they eventually did).

Now comes the popularity of social networks - LinkedIn, Facebook, Orkut, etc. as semi-controllable (implying semi-uncontrolled) communication channels... and here come the attention seekers. First the date-seekers and friend-seekers, then, the fame seekers (they only come after there's enough people watching to create fame)...and then, the professional, commercial attention-getters (businesses, advertisers, etc). I'm suddenly getting poked, compared, bitten... I'm getting virtual gifts and invited to play games... all by people I either know well or at least recognize as those I've invited into my virtual social circles. I'm also getting some valuable attention requests from people with really good ideas and invites to keep in touch with old friends. These new(ish) channels can really be powerful to control the inflow once you learn how - but they're even more powerful for the attention seekers, as we are all more likely to give our attention to someone who has already gotten the attention of one of our friends.

No matter the channel, we each have this powerful resource we can either offer or withhold – our Attention. But manage your network of friends or you might find you've opened your door to more attention seekers than ever. Just like the theory of email-bankruptcy - where people are just starting over and tossing aside their old email piles, you might find yourself declaring social (network) suicide, and killing off your current social profile and the network of 'friends' as the only way out from under the weight of that news feed.

When we are looking for entertainment, or a product or a service or a friend, we can offer our attention and listen for a while, or we can say “Please, stop blowing that whistle, or I really will crush it”.


Unknown said...

We need self-destructing email.

Thinking about social network fatigue and email fatigue got me wondering why we don't have "phone" fatigue? You seldom find yourself yelling at a friend to stop calling so much, because you have an easy way of denying them that attention, just don't pick up.

In a way, perhaps both social networks and email are inherently "unnatural" because they are essentially immortal. We are used to things that "die" if we ignore them long enough, but schmucks on Facebook keep biting me no matter how much I ignore them.

JR said...

"immortality of email"... interesting idea... never thought of it as immortality, but I know I've thought to myself that we are going to look back one day at our accumulation of incoming messages and think 'what were we thinking?' ...

"don't pick up" - yeah, if only we could stop the evolution of voicemail into our email boxes... I don't have it yet - but suspect i will.

JR said...

... and now USA Today reports that "Today about 150 engineers at chipmaker Intel (INTC) will kick off 'Zero E-mail Fridays.' E-mail isn't forbidden, but everyone is encouraged to phone or meet face-to-face. The goal is more direct, free-flowing communication and better exchange of ideas, Intel principal engineer Nathan Zeldes says in a company blog post."
See Full Article at USA Today