What is the attention economy and how can it influence our thoughts?

While the information available on the Internet abounds, the real challenge for the media, companies, and institutions, among other actors, is to attract the interest of their target audience to their messages.

That is precisely what the attention economy is after. This concept is based on the impossibility for users to pay attention to all the data that circulates on the Internet due to its extremely high volume.

Competition for our interest with hidden dangers

With a society made up of individuals who are increasingly dependent on small screens and less aware of what is happening around them, the key is to filter the contents, making sure that those most in line with their interests reach each one.

Something that is manifested in the innumerable notifications that we receive on our mobiles. They all invite participation, either by simply reading or through a more active attitude that leads us to leave comments, fill out forms or share the most recent news with others.

Such mechanics may seem positive at first. At the end of the day, it helps us to have access to the information most in line with our tastes in a moment, without the need to embark on exhaustive and prolonged searches.

But that comfort has a dangerous counterpart since it makes us easily manipulated beings. Not in vain, we only get what is in tune with our opinions and tastes.

This means that we miss out on other essential ideas and points of view to build a solid criterion in the face of the most diverse issues.

The superconnected society is the perfect setting for the attention economy

The dimension of such a threat is magnified if we take into account the immense percentage of society that lives exposed, on a daily basis, to these stimuli. This is reflected, for example, in the IAB Social Networks Study 2021, which establishes that the proportion of inhabitants between the ages of 16 and 70 who use a platform of this nature in Spain is 85%.

The conclusions of another study carried out at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and at the University of the Vic-Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) are not very reassuring either.

Under the title Social networks and digital consumption in university students: attention economy and communication oligopolies in the 21st century, the initiative analyzes the daily behavior of university students between 19 and 21 years old between 2016 and 2019.

The results make clear the predominance of addictive behaviors towards social networks among the new generations, a trend that points to becoming chronic. The majority of groups among those interviewed in 2016, 2017, and 2018 corresponded to those who spent between 1 and 4 hours a day hooked on them.

Well, in 2019 there were important changes. In this last data collection, the increase in cases of young people who prolong their daily activity on Instagram or WhatsApp for more than 4 hours is striking. Of them, 6.6% even exceeded 10 hours.

The challenge is to avoid becoming a society subject to the interests of a few

The first key to getting away from the influence of those who use the attention economy in order to manipulate us would be to change our habits. I

n the first place, we would do well to return a good part of our focus to what is happening around us, instead of focusing on the novelties reflected on the mobile screen. An easy solution to formulate but, unfortunately, too far from materializing.

At least for the moment. That would not imply a total abandonment of the virtual dimension in which we remain submerged for much of our current existence.

It would be essential, however, to evolve as Internet users. Specifically, towards new individuals with a greater critical capacity. This would prevent persuasive messages from permeating our minds as easily as they do today.

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