The need for attention is inherent in human beings. We all want attention at times, some more than others. We want people to listen to us when we speak, and good manners directs that we reciprocate. Simply, to pay attention.
Traditional economics relies on supply and demand. The more demand there is for a product, the more valuable it becomes. However, too much of a product can outweigh demand, and that, in turn, lowers its value. This is the case of information on the Internet.
As Michael Goldhaber explains, there is so much information available at our fingertips that the information itself has no value. The information only becomes valuable when it is accessed (1997). When it has someone’s attention.
Internet commerce has created ways for attention to become an economic principal. Everyday online tasks such as watching a movie or listening to music form the basis of this principal. In the past you would have to go to a store to buy a CD or hire a DVD to have the same experience that is now possible entirely online via streaming services such as Spotify or Netflix. Not only are you giving these services your attention, you are also paying them to do so. The ramifications of this are twofold. Firstly, it negates the need for a physical marketplace, and material possessions are no longer received.
“In the new era, markets are making way for networks, and ownership is steadily being replaced by access,” says author Jeremy Rifkin. “Companies and consumers are beginning to abandon the central reality of modern economic life – the market exchange of property between sellers and buyers.” (2001, p. 4).
Rifkin explains that this doesn’t mean that property ceases to exist, it’s just no longer exchanged in a traditional marketplace. Instead, items are accessed by paying a fee for the short-term use of an item owned by a supplier, such as watching a movie on Netflix or paying a subscription fee to read the newspaper online (2001).
This “age of access”, as termed by Rifkin, is changing the way we embrace culture. According to Michael Bodey of The Australian newspaper, spending on digital video in Australia increased by 49% in 2015 (2016). Services such as Netflix are slowly moving the cultural economy from one of market exchanges and physical ownership of property (ie, DVDs) to one where time and attention hold the most value.
Next page: Network Economy