there is an enormous amounts of information in your hands, vying for your attention. And yet you chose to come here and read this… or did you?
this is a curated list of resources about a term I have to come to know as the attention economy, how is it used to generate profit from your attention, and why should you care about it.
Whenever you interact with content, watching, liking, commenting, sharing, the algorithm gets to know what your preferences are, it then finds and shows you relevant content which you might consume as well, thus keeping you engaged.
Another concept at play here, is of human psychology. Our brain’s constant need for stimulation. So when you are constantly presented with newer information, your brain naturally gravitates toward it, subconsciously sending yourself down a rabbit hole and you end up giving away major chunks of your attention on these platforms.
But how is my attention making money for these platforms, you ask?
The Dark Side
The platforms track every interaction while you’re on it, how active you are with a post, the amount of time you look at it, and similar content, watched, tracked, measured and used to not only predict what you might like but what you might want, which is how you get targeted ads. Money is paid to these platforms by the owners of such products and services to show us these ads, which they later get back from us when we buy stuff from them.
That doesn’t seem so dark.
It doesn’t but the unethical ways these platforms are using to manipulate our behavior is highly discomforting. The Social Dilemma, presents an insightful view of social media by the people who once helped establish and perpetuate habits of the internet across the globe. A documentary that everyone should definitely watch.
The Social Dilemma | Netflix
Explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations
All those personal preferences collected by the platforms are used to construct a sense of the world wherein everyone agrees with you. The confirmation bias works in reverse here. Attracting you into a virtual comfort-zone where nothing opposes your world view… which is why you’ll want to spend more of your time and attention there. But this pushes your slightly opinionated thoughts, little by little, to extreme ends, programming you on a deeper level so you are more likely to act as if it were your own volition.
The Cambridge Analytica Files | The Guardian
A year-long investigation into Facebook, data, and influencing elections in the digital age
The underlying game is different here, our susceptibility to various psychological biases is abused by companies, priming our thoughts and behavior. It is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures. And it is this mix of how platforms use the algorithm and the psychology of our minds that has made this game invisible.
So should I stop using all these products and services and boycott everything?
Engage, but not as asked
Now that you know how the algorithms work, you see the sole purpose of it is keep you on the platform for as long as possible by showing you content based on your preferences.
But you can train it to get the content that you want. Because, you always have the choice of what content to engage with, you can actively choose something that helps you build up any skill & gain knowledge rather than passive entertainment. And if you do it right, the algorithm will help you. Overtime, you’ll see that you are presented with similar content without having to manually look for it, reducing your efforts in the long run.
There is an amazing amount of stuff I have discovered through this process that I wouldn’t have otherwise… the Guvi, Harvard and Google Cloud Platform resources would be my most recent example. But also all of the tech related news and articles I get in my Google Now feed as a result of researching topics during college. I find learning about the latest developments in these fields so efficient as it’s much more accessible.
Also exposing yourself to people that have thoughts opposite to yours, who present you with perspectives outside your comfort zone, basically stuff that you do not agree with. This would help you develop a balanced mindset and prevent you from always consuming biased information that fuels extreme opinionated thoughts.
Even manually switching to view the latest posts on any platform will get you content of different perspectives instead of only watching the top posts which would be the same on all platforms.
How to Do Nothing and Nudge are two books that have helped me understand the attention economy and subconscious ways by which companies influence our decisions on education, personal finance, family, health care, mortgages and credit cards, and even the planet itself. And through which you too can develop your understanding of the same.
But possibly the best thing to do, is to physically separate yourself from this virtual world and get out into reality every now and then, connect with others in person, take a walk amidst the beauty of nature, what did people do before the advent of social media consumed us all?
Now before ending this article I want to leave you with this… there are nearly endless opportunities to improve each day and finding them largely boils down to being curious. Be aware of the fact that you always have the choice to decide. So the next time you watch any video recommendation on auto-play, respond to that notification from your friend on any social network soon as it arrives, or read that recommended article from below… pause to consider this… are you the one choosing to do that?
This is how you will begin to take control of the algorithms that run the world, and use them to your benefit rather than algorithms telling you what to do.