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The Attention Economy: Robbery & Assault

This article will hopefully open your mind to the possibility that every single day you are exposed to a torrent of media assaulting your psyche trying to get and keep your attention, aka your time. You probably already knew this in some way or another, but I am here to say it plainly and to compel you to stop making yourself a victim of the “attention economy.”

I’d like to open this article with the acknowledgement that I am not an expert in economics or criminal law. However, I am an expert in managing time (aka attention) via my business Objektiv Digital and an expert in managing my mental health due to my schizophrenia. You can find evidence of that effective mental health management in my writings on MSN, Yahoo, my blog, and elsewhere.

Nearly all publishers are guilty of this assault and robbery

First, let’s look at the title of the blog article: “The Attention Economy: Robbery and Assault.” I start with a novelty. Something that is fairly new in our vernacular, the “attention economy.” Next, it includes an exciting claim, you’re getting assaulted and robbed. I am by no means an expert in clickbait, but I’ve gotta say, I think I did a good job with this one. However, this title is part of what’s hurting you. I am attacking your psyche to get your attention. The title claiming that you’re getting assaulted and robbed — which you are — in order to get and keep your attention.

I am assaulting you with these words because I’m hoping it will be the last time that it happens. Words like this excite you. They should excite you. You’re being told you’re in danger. We are hardwired to keep ourselves away from danger. If we see something that tells us we’re in danger, we pay close attention and stop being in the present moment. Instead, we look for information that is going to cause immediate harm.

You’re being assaulted in the attention economy

The problem with the title of this article is that it is being inserted amongst dozens or even hundreds of article/video titles that you’re going to see today as you read the news, scroll social media, watch TV, etc. You are being put in a persistent state of alertness, and it is literally killing you. It is making you anxious, depressed, neglect yourself, and an endless number of other things that you probably aren’t noticing.

You don’t even know it’s happening

One of the biggest problems with mental health is that other people usually can’t see that you’re sick. An even bigger problem is that you often don’t know that you’re sick. This is because these mental health issues creep up on you slowly. So slow, in fact, that you thought they were always there. Being anxious and depressed is normal for you, and you only know you have it because you’re able to observe its most extreme moments. What you probably didn’t know is that you’ve been anxious and depressed for years, you just didn’t know you were until it reached the extremes.

I was able to observe this in myself with my schizophrenia. I was diagnosed when I was 17. About four years later, I realized I was hearing voices. Yet, something I realized was that I had been hearing voices as early as the age of 13. Hearing voices was such a normal part of my life, that I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t part of a normal human experience. I was deep in the throes of schizophrenia and I didn’t even know it.

We already know that news and social media damage our mental health, right? Yet, we still go to the news every day. We still scroll our social feeds. Sure, we take a social media break every once in a while. Maybe we’ll uninstall an app or two. But it never really goes away. We still need to be informed about the happenings of the world. We still need to keep in touch with our friends and family.

Reduce consumption

What is the solution, then? That’s where it gets tricky. I don’t have a turn-key solution, because much like any psychotropic medication, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for everyone. My methods might work for me, but could be disastrous for others. The only thing that works across the board is much like losing weight effectively — cutting down consumption. Less calories, less weight gain. Less news and social media, less mental health degrade.

Long story short, cut your news and social media diet by half or more. Keep cutting it in half until you start feeling better. Then stick to the volume that you started feeling better. I am by no means saying this will cure whatever ails you, but it will at least improve your condition. Advil doesn’t cure the cause of headaches, but it will make you feel better. Cutting social media may not cure depression, but it will sure as hell make your outcomes for managing it infinitely better.

You’re being robbed in the attention economy

If you’re using a service and you’re not paying for it, you are the product. The service makes money by serving ads to you. In this structure, you are giving the service a portion of your time and in exchange for that time, you receive the privilege of using that service and getting a customized experience. Many people are okay with this. Many are not, especially when privacy issues are taken into consideration.

By browsing the internet and using these services, you are passively compromising your privacy and giving one of the most valuable commodities – your attention – away for free. Most people don’t even realize that their attention is a commodity. They don’t realize that their attention has a dollar value attached to it. If you knew you could earn money from peoples’ attention, would you give yours away so freely to the places that you give it to?

This whole situation reminds me of when I was a teenager play a collectible card game called Magic the Gathering. When I first started out, my friends helped me learn the game and traded cards with me so that I can create a competitive deck. What I didn’t know, however, is that in the trades I was making with them, they convinced me to trade them one of my most valuable cards that I had the luck of opening in one of the packages I bought.

I unknowingly, yet willingly, received pennies on the dollar in a trade. I was taken advantage of. Some might say I was scammed. Some might say I should have known better. Buyer beware, as they say. To that I say, bullshit. ‘Buyer beware’ is the go to phrase for greedy people who lack sufficient ethical and moral thinking that our contemporary society should demand.

‘Buyer beware’ is a cop-out for unethical & immoral behavior

When services convince someone to give up something of great monetary value knowing that they are oblivious of that value, they are what I like to call ‘shitty people.’ In other words, they are scammers, swindlers, two-bit, no-good, ne’er do wells. They are exploiting ignorance for financial gain.

And you, the news and social media consumer, have been getting robbed of your attention – at the cost of your mental health – so that Unilever can sell more bars of soap. Granted, we all need to wash ourselves with soap. I have no personal qualms with advertising. As a business owner, I have personally benefitted from advertising. I will shamefully admit, however, that benefit has been, at times, at the cost of peoples’ attention that they are unknowingly giving and have no way of knowing is at a fair price or not.

Are you spending your time effectively?

So, tell me, when you see 100 ads in a day, are you being sufficiently compensated for that time? 100 ads for about 3 seconds each is 300 seconds (and an extremely conservative estimate). 5 minutes per day. Over a month, that’s two and a half hours. I wonder what you could have done in that 2.5 hours?

You could have gone for 5 half-hour runs. Lifted weights a couple of times. Earned 2.5 hours of wages. Had more family time. Called that friend that you’ve been meaning to call but haven’t because you’re so busy. Learned to draw, play an instrument, or learn a new language. But no, you were looking at ads instead.

Again, you are being assaulted with exciting words that damage your mental health, and robbed of your time because there is no way of setting the price for your attention. Cut your media consumption by half. And keep cutting it in half until you are feeling better.

Solutions are coming

Thankfully, there are many forward-thinking creatives, engineers, and thinkers that are coming up with solutions to these problems. A way to have our cake as advertisers and creatives, and eat it, too. A perfect example of this is the Brave web browser.

Brave blocks all intrusive and invasive ads while serving ads in a non-intrusive way. You can opt out of these ads if you choose to. However, you will earn Basic Attention Tokens if you decide to opt-in. Basic Attention Token (BAT) is a cryptocurrency that can be used to tip creators (such as YouTubers, Twitter users, webmasters, and more). The Brave company itself only accepts BAT as payment for serving ads. This in itself makes the intrinsic value crystal clear and easy to communicate.

Your attention is valued and respected

Using Brave, you are given monetary compensation for your attention. This should make perfect sense. The privilege of using an app is simply not enough of a justifiable compensation for the enormous amounts of time our eyes and ears are exposed to ads. Additionally, content creators should be sufficiently compensated for their work. Getting a little bit of exposure and maybe a follower or two is a pittance compared to what these platforms profit from by hosting your content.

I am by no means a crypto expert. Hell, I barely pass as a novice. When it comes to crypto talk, it all seems like a bunch of jibberish fueled by hype and greed to me. When I did my research on BAT, however, it was the first time I could clearly understand its purpose, value, and potential for being a substantially viable form of currency. It may never become wildly valuable like Bitcoin. But, because its value is easy to communicate, I see it as an extremely attractive option for earning and investing in.

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Do you enjoy my mindless, self-indulgent ramblings?

First off, there’s what is wrong with you?! Read my other stuff, it’s much more useful and optimistic.

Secondly, I will only enable your masochism to a certain extent. As such, I will send updates that I am completely convinced will be valuable to you. I respect your time by respecting my time. I don’t send frivolous bullshit.


Sorry, sorry! I just thought since you've been on this site for longer than average, you might hear me out?

Why do you do this to me, Ian...

Okay, okay, I'll be quick! I have a newsletter to keep you up-to-date on my content and projects. If my stuff tickles your pickle, help us both out by subscribing!

Also, I don't do anything shady or aggressive with your email address. I'll only send you the good stuff and won't share your email with any person/provider that isn't working for me to serve you better.

'Serve me better.' What deliciously vague jargon. Is this where you pretend to be me and you make me respond with a contrived form of consent because you're bold enough to assume this cute little chat interface gimmick is enough to actually get me to sign up?

Ummm... uhhh... ahh... Sign up and get exclusive discounts and early access!!!! Come ooooon! Induced scarcity is fun!

...alright, well, I'll leave it up to you.

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