This Short Manifesto on the Future of Attention by Michael Erard pushed a lot of my buttons, and I reckon it’ll be of some considerable interest to other art creators and consumers (writers and readers, for example, which is most of you lot):
I imagine attention festivals: week-long multimedia, cross-industry carnivals of readings, installations, and performances, where you go from a tent with 30-second films, guitar solos, 10-minute video games, and haiku to the tent with only Andy Warhol movies, to a myriad of venues with other media forms and activities requiring other attention lengths. In the Nano Tent, you can hear ringtones and read tweets. A festival organized not by the forms of the commodities themselves but of the experience of interacting with them. Not organized by time elapsed, but by cognitive investment: a pop song, which goes by quickly, can resonate for days; a poem, which can go by more quickly, sticks through a season. A festival in which you can see images of your brain on knitting and on Twitter.
I imagine a retail sector for cultural products that’s organized around the attention span: not around “books” or “music” but around short stories and pop songs in one aisle, poems and arias in the other. In the long store: 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzles, big novels, beer brewing equipment, DVDs of The Wire. Clerks could suggest and build attentional menus. We would develop attentional connoisseurship: the right pairings of the short and long.
Has a hint of the science fictional about it, but doesn’t seem implausible by any means given the way the web is mutating creation and commerce. But this bit deserves special attention:
I imagine an attention tax that aspiring cultural producers must pay. A barrier to entry. If you want people to read your book, then you have to read books; if you want people to buy your book, then you buy books. Give your attention to the industry of your choice. Like indie musicians have done for decades, conceive of the scene as an attention economy, in which those who pay in (e.g., I go to your shows) get to take out (e.g., come to my show). It would also mitigate one oft-claimed peril of the rise of the amateur, which is that they don’t know from quality: consuming many other examples from a variety of sources, even amateur producers would generate a sense of what’s good and what’s bad: in other words, in their community they’d evolve a set of standards. This might frustrate the elitists, who want to impose their standards. But standards would, given enough time, emerge.
This sounds very much like the online short fiction scene to me, albeit a more highly evolved version thereof, and the pparallel with the indie music scenes, especially at a local level, is palpable. I’d be tempted to make “economy” and “ecosystem” interchangeable, though. What do you think – will curation of niche artforms become a form of crowdsourced consensus of attention?
(This is yet another link from Joanne McNeil of Tomorrow Museum, who I’ll stop linking to just as soon as she stops posting really interesting stuff… which hopefully won’t be any time soon.)