This week’s readings were certainly an eye-opener. It’s concerning to note that the abundance of information that exists on the web is potentially creating more problems than benefits as we face the prospect of having information that is valueless given that so much of it exists. With so much information, what becomes of value is attention. Information is hungry for attention.
Michael Goldhaber has described attention as the currency of the new economy (1997). Audiences of content are obviously outnumbered by the seemingly infinite archives of information on the internet; therefore their attention is of value because it is relatively scarce.
The million dollar question however, is what creates attention and how can it be sustained? I guess if I had a definitive answer I wouldn’t be writing this blog, but Michael Erard (2009) suggests that two key strategies are making things free, and making them brief. This may seem like a good idea, but it’s not sustainable. Everyone can publish short and for free, and it will probably just lead to an abundance of more information, only this time more redundant and useless than the information that already exists on the net.
The internet has increased our consumption of content, yet at the same time has diminished our attention to detail. Potentially concerning are the claims of Emily Yoffe (2009) that suggest we as consumers are becoming addicted to technology, to the instant gratifications that are attainable through media use. The result is shortened attention spans. So as there is more information, our attention spans are reduced thus causing the value placed on attention to rise.
This brings me to the concept of ‘infotension’, a term coined by Howard Rheingold (2009). He describes infotension as a combination of brain powered attention skills with computer powered information filtering systems. I guess infotension is a hybrid human computer information filter. What Rheingold proposes is that the use of tools such as search engines, RSS feeds, social bookmarkers and feed aggregators can enable users to effectively filter information in order to find exactly what they are looking for. Essentially what these tools enable for is a constant update of information, which essentially restructures the relationship between the user and the information by effectively making the relevant information find the user who wants it.
Rheingold’s ‘infotension’ could be the crucial element in saving our brains from the tsunamis of information that we are bombarded with everyday. Educating individuals to navigate through the information on the net, and use the tools available to filter the valuable from the useless could prove important for two reasons. Firstly I think that it will enable consumers to exercise their attention and secondly it may promote quality as published content will need to only consume the attention of those who are interested in it most.