I want to talk about attention. More and more lately I’ve been thinking about it as the primary driver of people’s actions on the web. But when you think about it in a larger context, it’s really at the center of what much of the population does off the web as well. Think about it, how many people want to be famous? What’s fame? A whole lot of attention.
The vast majority of the world don’t get paid to contribute to culture, they do it for free. That’s why artists starve and actors wait tables. The light at the end of the tunnel is never just fortune, it’s always paired with fame. People want to be noticed and that’s the bottom line.
As I understand much of traditional economic theory is based on the idea that people are completely rational beings, but if that’s the case, why is attention so valuable? Sure, sometimes you can convert attention into profit (think infomercials), but what about all the people that just do stuff to get on TV. Come on, you know the guy, the one who stands behind the newscaster making funny faces so that maybe, by some stroke of crazy luck, one of his friends is watching.
We’re not rational in any way, television did a good job breaking that. But now, with all these people on the web, it’s becoming all the more apparent. There are millions of people adding content to the web with no apparent goal in sight. My writing here is not a profitable endeavor. I have to pay for my hosting and, assuming my time has some value, waste my time. The result is a site that I hope will attract interesting people. I want attention.
Sure, down the road I may have a hair-brained scheme to turn that attention into profit by using this site as a springboard, but the fact is that most of us don’t even do it for that. We do it because we like being a part of something. We want attention. We want to feel connected. We want to meet people of likemind. In fact, most of these things are probably worth more than money to a lot of people.
So the big question is, what happens when the non-web world catches on? If the web economy is made up of things like attention and trust, what happens when, like most trends nowadays, it exits the digital realm and enters ‘real life’?
Update (7/26/06): Just ran across this Anil Dash entry about the current Digg vs. Netscape feud and why people contribute content.