Thing 4

Thing 4. Attention Economy: Information Is Not Scarce; Attention Is 

Introduction: We Live in an Attention Economy

Your life is purchased by where you spend your attention.” 

The first event in the Media Landscapes campaign was a presentation by Renee Hobbs from the Media Lab. Her presentation, Mind Over Media (linked at the end of this Thing), covered several key concepts, including propaganda and this topic, an attention economy. In this Thing, you’ll learn what the attention economy is, and how it fits in the overall landscape of this campaign. 

Just what is the “attention economy?” Think about today, your life. How many things have demanded your attention just today? What food to eat, talking to your family and friends, checking your email, exercising, listening to music, meditating, watching tv, listening to the radio, this list could go on forever. Our daily lives are a constant battle of where we spend our attention. And our media is designed to attract as much of your attention as possible. We are inundated with information, but not just information alone; most every aspect of the world is attempting to win out over the others. This is what we mean by attention economy. Each of us has only so much attention we can spend and the media battles to receive the largest share. Part of your job, in being digitally literate, is being able to recognize valuable places to give your attention versus those that may not be as valued and making an informed choice about where you spend your limited attention. 


Your attention is limited and valuable, and the truth of that inspired Brain Craft to produce a series of six short videos called Attention Wars, discussing various topics surrounding the attention economy. Watch what catches your interest or watch them all, but spend your attention wisely!

  • Big Tech’s Battle for our Attention (11:44)
  • The Psychological Tricks Keeping You Online (10:03)
  • How One Company Redefined Social Norms (10:22)
  • Google Owns 28% of Your Brain (9:29)
  • Your Emotions are For Sale (10:19)
  • The Attention Economy Needs to Change. But How? (11:11)

Jenny Odell has 5 tips in this video: Why You Should ‘Do Nothing’ in a World of Addictive Tech | NowThis (5:25)


While the term “attention economy” is becoming increasingly popular and fits well in the media landscape it was first coined as a term from economics. Read more about the concept in the following two articles. 

Paying Attention: The Attention Economy | Berkeley Economic Review

Attention Shoppers! The Currency of the New Economy Won’t Be Money, but Attention — a Radical Theory of Value. | WIRED magazine 

The idea of controlling your attention is important to digital literacy. One way is to focus or declutter the number of distractions that compete for your attention. Here are three articles that speak to this key idea. 

15 Digital Minimalism Tips: Declutter Your Digital Life | Minimal Ray

How to Turn Off and Drop Out of The Attention Economy | Siempo

How to Maintain Your Focus in the ‘Attention Economy’ | Go1


The attention economy depends on us to use our devices to communicate, create, consume, connect, and curate. All of which are important, but can be overwhelming unless we take steps to declutter and disconnect from some of these activities. Take time to refocus your attention.

Take this quiz to see how your technology use measures up. We bet, for most of us, it is high.

Once you have a sense of how ‘connected’ you are, consider doing some of the following things to declutter and refocus your attention: 

  • Reduce the number of apps on your devices. 
  • Organize your apps into folders to declutter your desktop/phone.
  • Cut the number of notifications you receive. Endless pinging is definitely seeking your attention.
  • Create a plan for how you interact with your devices. For example, check email only once or twice a day.
  • Be selective about your social media accounts. Maybe you don’t need Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Pick those that speak to your needs.
  • Find alternatives to digital information. Maybe read a print newspaper or magazine. 

Try some of these tips in your life and work. Or, maybe you already have. Post a comment below and talk about what the attention economy means to you, how it impacts your life, and ways you can spend your limited attention more thoughtfully. 

Conversation Starters

With so many demands from the media, it becomes increasingly difficult to choose where to spend our attention. How is this avalanche of choice also affecting our ability to focus our attention on only one thing at a time? 

What is the downside of so many demands on our attention? What is the upside? Is having more choice a positive or negative, and in what scenario?

Evaluation  While not required, we would love for you to complete the evaluation for this Thing. If you wish to receive clock hours, you must complete the evaluation with your registered email address. 

Additional Readings

Goodbye Attention Economy, We’ll Miss You | Nieman Lab article. 

Attention Discussion | MIT OpenCourseware.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell | NYT Review.

The Attention Economy. | Nielsen Norman Group.

The Attention Economy is Disrupting the Classroom | The Stanford Daily opinion piece. 

Navigating a World Full of Propaganda. Slides | Renee Hobbs

Navigating a World Full of Propaganda. Presentation | Renee Hobbs
Three Virtual Games to Help Students Improve Their Attention in Four Ways. | PBS SoCal article.

3 thoughts on “Thing 4”

  1. I like thinking about this as a way to understand the world. It is interesting that the amount of attention one wants can be limitless. Most things we want have a declining importance as we get enough. We can have enough food, houses, pet dogs,whatever. Attention is different. A famous person can become more famous or richer or more influential. There is no diminishing return, no satiety. So, while we all have a same amount of attention we can give we can accrue or acquire an almost limitless amount (although most of us do not have a net gain)

    Oh dear, there is a bad joke here. We all have attention deficit disorder.

    1. We may have an endless need for the attention, but do we have the time to seek it out and cultivate what it takes to acquire it? Along with doing all the other things required in our lives–taking care of those other things–food, houses, pet dogs,whatever… I like to be reminded that attention or attention-seeking is a ‘job’ to maintain.

      Plus, so much information, so little time–how do we choose.

Leave a Reply