Attention economy

January 13, 2012 — April 3, 2022

bandit problems
bounded compute
Figure 1

We are all agents acting with limited and local information. What sort of behaviour can we expect from a multiscale system composed of such actors? Especially, consider the problem of what we can expect if all the actors in such a system have no only finite computational resources and times to spend of calculating the risk and return for each problem facing them, but also finite resources to spend even on working out which problems to allocate their other finite resources to.

HYPER-REALITY, by Keiichi Matsuda

1 Incoming

  • Andy Warhol, Clay Christensen, and Vitalik Buterin walk into a bar connects attention economy to value generation and self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • Anthony Lee Zhang, The War for Eyeballs

    There is thus an interesting analogy between control rights for Twitter and other social media platforms, and the recent “Curve wars” in web3. Eyeball space in social media is like liquidity in web3: everyone values it and everyone wants to control it. Curve is thus similar to Twitter, in the sense that it controls a resource — incentivized liquidity provision — which is more valuable than the profits CRV extracts from providing the resource. As a result, many parties find it in their interest to buy control rights over CRV/CVX, and run it in a purposefully non-profit-maximizing way. In web3, large protocols amass piles of CRV/CVS governance tokens, to redirect liquidity towards their own tokens. Again, the fundamental principle behind the Curve wars is that the liquidity that Curve controls is much more valuable to some market participants, than the potential profits Curve generates using that liquidity.

    My thesis is thus that Twitter and similar platforms are, in some sense, doomed to exist in perpetual governance conflicts similar to the Curve wars. Market forces will not allow Twitter and similar companies to exist as independent, reasonably objective, profit-maximizing company. Since the eyeball time rents that Twitter controls are vastly larger than the profits it generates from those rents, Twitter is essentially doomed to be locked in a endless governance war. Interested forces will fight endlessly for control over Twitter, to run Twitter in a purposefully non-profit-maximizing way, to channel eyeballs towards one’s desired objective. Parties which value eyeball time for various reasons will endlessly struggle for control over Twitter, not for its ad profits, but to funnel eyeball time, in a purposefully non-profit-maximizing way, towards causes that they value.

Figure 2: See Hall and Madsen (2022) — the attention economy of road signs

2 References

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Cassidy. 2015. The Attention-Deficit-Disorder Economy.” The New Yorker.
Doran. 2017. A Political Economy of Attention, Mindfulness and Consumerism: Reclaiming the Mindful Commons. Routledge Studies in Sustainability.
Evans. 2017. The Economics of Attention Markets.” SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3044858.
Hall, and Madsen. 2022. Can Behavioral Interventions Be Too Salient? Evidence from Traffic Safety Messages.” Science.
Hoiles, Krishnamurthy, and Pattanayak. 2020. Rationally Inattentive Inverse Reinforcement Learning Explains YouTube Commenting Behavior.” Journal of Machine Learning Research.
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Kozyreva, Wineburg, Lewandowsky, et al. 2023. Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens.” Current Directions in Psychological Science.
Paasonen. 2021. Dependent, Distracted, Bored: Affective Formations in Networked Media.
Pedersen, Albris, and Seaver. 2021. The Political Economy of Attention.”
Polman. 2010. Why Are Maximizers Less Happy Than Satisficers? Because They Maximize Positive and Negative Outcomes.” Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.
Rizoiu, and Xie. 2017. Online Popularity Under Promotion: Viral Potential, Forecasting, and the Economics of Time.” arXiv:1703.01012 [Cs].
Schwartz, Ward, Monterosso, et al. 2002. Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness Is a Matter of Choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Wojtowicz, Chater, and Loewenstein. 2019. Boredom and Flow: An Opportunity Cost Theory of Attention-Directing Motivational States.” SSRN Scholarly Paper.
Wu, Rizoiu, and Xie. 2019. Estimating Attention Flow in Online Video Networks.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction.