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DefinitionThe word attention refers to the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one thing while deliberately ignoring other things. Examples include listening carefully to what someone is saying while ignoring other conversation in the room. Attention can also be split, such as driving, putting on makeup, and talking on the cell phone at the same time.
Attention is one of the most intensely studied subjects within psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Of the many cognitive processes associated with the human mind (decision-making, memory, emotion, etc) attention is considered the most concrete because it is tied so closely to perception. As such it is a gateway to the rest of cognition.
The most famous definition of attention was provided by one of the first major psychologists, William James:
"Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought...It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others." (Principles of Psychology, 1890) --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention [Aug 2004]
Nomadic Thought, or Rhizomic ThoughtGilles Deleuze
We have in the West a venerable tradition of studying how human attention is created and allocated: the "art of persuasion" which the Greeks called rhetoric. A better definition of rhetoric, in fact, might be "the economics of human attention- structures"... (Richard A Lanham).
- The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business - Thomas H. Davenport, John C. Beck [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
If you like to keep on top of what's going on in the world but find it difficult to get through more than a section or two of the Sunday New York Times, take heart. Were you to actually plow through the whole thing, even just once, you'd be taking in more factual information than was gathered in all the written material available to a reader in the 15th century. And that's just a Sunday paper; what about all the e-mail, voice mail, meetings, Web pages (2 billion or so of them), and publications (more than 60,000 new books and 18,000 magazines published annually in the U.S. alone) vying for your attention? According to Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck, we live in an age of information overload, where attention has become the most valuable business currency. Welcome to The Attention Economy.
If yesterday was the age of information, today is the age of trying to attract or employ people's attention. Indeed, leaders and managers in the business world face this two-fold problem daily, constantly seeking the attention of their customers and employees while managing their own limited supply. Declaring that "understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success," the authors examine what attention is, how it can be measured, how it's being technologically constructed and protected, and where and how attention is being most effectively exploited.
Predictably, nowhere are these economics more important than in the realm of e-commerce. In the chapter entitled "Eyeballs and Cyber Malls," the authors discuss the strategies needed to gain and maintain attention "stickiness." The book contains numerous suggestions on how leaders can manage their own attention and that of their employees more effectively (and how to avoid and treat info-stress), but always with an eye on the ultimate goal: affecting the type and amount of attention your customers give you. Already, more money is often spent on attracting attention to a product than spent on the product itself (we're reminded of The Blair Witch Project, which cost a mere $350,000 to make and $11 million to market). And as our information environment gets increasingly saturated, holding a person's attention becomes an ever more difficult proposition; as the authors suggest, actually paying for someone to receive your information is a realistic prospect in the not-too-distant future. Indeed, the book's final chapter is devoted to what the authors predict will affect attention in the future, and how attention can and will be acquired, monitored, and distributed.
The Attention Economy is peppered with anecdotal pull-outs and "overheard" comments; though intriguing in as random factoids and zippy, little quotes, this sideline information doesn't always tie in with the authors' points and often seems distracting. The book is well written, though, and the authors, both of whom work at the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change, take an informed and well-balanced look at what is perhaps our society's most priceless, ephemeral commodity. --S. Ketchum
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