Really thought-provoking talk from danah boyd, primarily about how in the competition for attention we want to promote fear, and that social media perpetuates this. The general text for the talk is also worth the read. Here’s one rather long snip that gets to the heart:
In the 1970s, the scholar Herbert Simon argued that “in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”
His arguments give rise both to the notion of “information overload” but also to the “attention economy.” In the attention economy, people’s willingness to distribute their attention to various information stimuli create value for said stimuli. Indeed, the economic importance of advertisements is predicated on the notion that getting people to pay attention to something has value.
News media is tightly entwined with the attention economy. Newspapers try to capture people’s attentions through headlines. TV and radio stations try to entice people to not change the channel. And, indeed, there is a long history of news media leveraging fear to grab attention, often with a reputational cost. Yellow journalism tarnished newspapers’ credibility with scary headlines intended to generate sales. The history of radio and television is sullied with propaganda as political ideologues leveraged social psychology to shape the public’s opinion.
Now, along comes social media… Needless to say, social media brings with it massive quantities of information – unscripted, unedited, and uncurated. Going online is like swimming in an ocean of information. The very notion of being able to consume everything is laughable, although many people are still struggling to come to terms with “information overload." Some respond by avoiding environments where they’ll be exposed to too much information. Others try to develop complicated tactics to achieve balance. Still others are miserable failing to find a way of dealing with information that is comfortable for them. (Don’t worry: there are lots of self-help books out there.)
The amount of information being produced overwhelmingly exceeds the amount of information you can possibly pay attention to. My favorite response to this is what computer scientist Michael Bernstein describes as going “Twitter Zen.” This is the happy state people reach when they let go of control and just embrace the information firehose.
This shift is relatively new which is what causes so much consternation. A few years ago, my brother and I were going through some old stuff at my mother’s house when we came across a book that he had purchased in 1994. It was a Yellow Pages for the Internet. We burst out laughing because the very notion that you could capture all webpages in a physical directory is absolutely ridiculous today. And yet, somehow, people still think that they should read all blog posts in their feed readers or all tweets in their Twitter stream. In fact, most of our tools are designed to make us feel guilty when we’ve left things "unread."
No matter how we feel about the massive amounts of information, one thing’s clear: the amount of information is not going to decline any time soon. Given the increase of information and media, those who want people to consume their material are fighting an uphill battle to get their attention. Anyone who does social media marketing knows how hard it is to capture people’s attention in this new ecosystem.
The more stimuli there are competing for your attention, the more that attention seekers must fight to capture your attention. More often than not, this results in psychological warfare as attention-seekers leverage any and all emotions to draw you in.
There is much here to discuss and study and debate, but for me, at least, this all has a lot of resonance to the ongoing conversations about education and "reform.” We’re told we should be scared of other countries beating us, of incompetent teachers, or failing schools and more. Maybe in order to get our version of events heard, we have to articulate fear as well, as in fear of what standardization is doing to our children, our society, and our country. Or…