The attention economy: curation by duration

Paul Raven @ 22-08-2009

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.)

Best way to clean up the environment? Make everyone richer.

Edward Willett @ 22-04-2009


John Tierney at the New York Times has a couple of predictions for Earth Day:

1. There will be no green revolution in energy or anything else. No leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries. No recession or depression will make a lasting change in consumers’ passions to use energy, make money and buy new technology — and that, believe it or not, is good news, because…

2. The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run.

Tierney acknowledges that that second prediction may be hard to believe with concerns about U.S. carbon emissions and increasing emissions from India and China as they get richer, but he backs it up with data:

By the 1990s, researchers realized that graphs of environmental impact didn’t produce a simple upward-sloping line as countries got richer. The line more often rose, flattened out and then reversed so that it sloped downward, forming the shape of a dome or an inverted U — what’s called a Kuznets curve. (See for an example.)

In dozens of studies, researchers identified Kuznets curves for a variety of environmental problems. There are exceptions to the trend, especially in countries with inept governments and poor systems of property rights, but in general, richer is eventually greener. As incomes go up, people often focus first on cleaning up their drinking water, and then later on air pollutants like sulfur dioxide.

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“Once you have lots of high-rises filled with computers operating all the time, the energy delivered has to be very clean and compact,” said Mr. Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. “The long-term trend is toward natural gas and nuclear power, or conceivably solar power. If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070.”

Tierney says the U.S. and other Western countries seem to be near the top of the curve for carbon emissions and ready to start the downward slope. He points out that the amount of carbon emitted by the average American has been fairly flat for twenty years now, and per capita carbon emissions are declining in some other Western countries. Increasing forest land, also a by-product of increasing wealth and better agricultural technology, helps take more carbon out of the atmosphere in richer countries, too, whereas in poor countries, deforestation runs rampant as people seek fuel and farmland.

By this argument, tough restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from developing countries could actually harm the environment by slowing their economic growth and delaying the point at which they top the curve and reach downward slope.

Tierney finishes with this:

While some American environmentalists hope that the combination of the economic crisis and a new president can start an era of energy austerity and green power, Mr. Ausubel says they’re hoping against history.

Over the past century, he says, nothing has drastically altered the long-term trends in the way Americans produce or use energy — not the Great Depression, not the world wars, not the energy crisis of the 1970s or the grand programs to produce alternative energy.

“Energy systems evolve with a particular logic, gradually, and they don’t suddenly morph into something different,” Mr. Ausubel says. That doesn’t make for a rousing speech on Earth Day. But in the long run, a Kuznets curve is more reliable than a revolution.

(Image: Unofficial Earth Day Flag, Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]Earth Day, environment, pollution, economy, energy[/tags]

Building new communities in burst bubbles

Paul Raven @ 19-03-2009

foreclosed property sale signYesterday Cory at BoingBoing pointed out a story about a small artist’s community springing up in the now-notorious $100-housing districts of Detroit:

So what did $1,900 buy? The run-down bungalow had already been stripped of its appliances and wiring by the city’s voracious scrappers. But for Mitch that only added to its appeal, because he now had the opportunity to renovate it with solar heating, solar electricity and low-cost, high-efficiency appliances.

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

All of a sudden, you’ve got a little nucleus of people turning the current economic crisis to their advantage; they’re even building their own miniature power grid based on renewable energies, and looking at ways to get by as cheaply as possible. [image by The Truth About…]

Much hay has already been made by commentators far more erudite than myself about the sea-change in public attitudes toward frugality and conspicuous consumption in the wake of the economic collapse, but the story above highlights the fact that it’s a lot easier and cheaper to avail yourself of the basics of modern convenience than it ever has been before… provided you’re willing to forgo your status symbols and think hard about what you need rather than what you want.

Artist communities, communes and cooperatives have cropped up again and again in recent (and not-so-recent) history, but I’d argue that never before has there been such viable potential for them to survive and thrive with a minimum of dependence on the state, nor a situation where the state would be willing to let it happen as a matter of expedience. Now, if Rushkoff is even partly right about the corporatist economy dying off for good, can we consider this Detroit community (and others like it elsewhere, like the squats of Berlin or Brighton here in Europe) to be the first signs of nation-statehood eroding from within?

Obviously the Detroit option is only available to those with enough capital to buy a foreclosed and deeply discounted property, but think about all those abandoned towns and towerblocks sat empty all over the world – how long before people stop waiting for their governments to find them somewhere to live, and start doing it for themselves? And how much in the way of resources will their governments be willing to expend on preventing them from doing so, considering all the other things they have to worry about?

Re-invigorate the economy: immigrants buy a house, get a free visa

Paul Raven @ 16-02-2009

Real estate for sale signHere’s a quick and dirty fix for the US economy – instead of closing up the borders, why not open the gates to skilled migrant workers, and give them a free green card with every house purchased?

While his tongue was slightly in cheek, Gupta and many other Indian business people I spoke to this week were trying to make a point that sometimes non-Americans can make best: “Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.”


We live in a technological age where every study shows that the more knowledge you have as a worker and the more knowledge workers you have as an economy, the faster your incomes will rise. Therefore, the centerpiece of our stimulus, the core driving principle, should be to stimulate everything that makes us smarter and attracts more smart people to our shores. That is the best way to create good jobs.

It’s easy to see why that piece is in the NYT’s op-ed column… but even so, it doesn’t sound like the craziest idea for ending the recession that I’ve heard in the last week. [via MarginalRevolution]; image by TheTruthAbout]

Spend your gift money at Apex Book Company

Paul Raven @ 29-12-2008

Michael Burstein - I Remember the FutureIf you’ve got some cash to hand after the seasonal blow-out, and if you fancy spending it on something worthwhile at the same time as helping out a small business that’s fallen on tough times, you could do a lot worse than pop on over to Apex Book Company (the people who put out the excellent Apex Online webzine) and buy a little something. Jason Sizemore explains:

Apex Publications needs an influx of revenue. Quick.

What this means is that if you’ve ever thought of buying an Apex book, now would be a damn good time to do so.

The most effective, easiest and most fun way to pump some blood into Apex is to buy a book directly from our store. You get damn fine literature (and free media shipping if your order is $25 or more (applies to US orders only)).

If you’re strapped of cash, then blog about our books or authors and try to coerce people into giving us a try.

I figure we need about $2500 in revenue over the next two weeks.

So go buy a book, or a back issue of Apex Digest, the excellent print mag that has now morphed into Apex Online. You get something nice to read, and to rest assured that another small press survives to publish more quality fiction – sounds like a win-win deal to me.

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