CC Image courtesy of Giorgio Montersino on Flickr (2005)
Right now I am researching something on the Internet. With my every click of the Web, a record is being made through an algorithm that will process the data and hopefully will help direct me toward the information for which I am looking. We’ve seen it on sites like Google and Amazon. As soon as I open up Amazon, highly-relatable suggestions sit somewhere on the screen hoping to entice a glance. They suggest books on education, books on quilting, books on theatre, and videos I might find entertaining. The same algorithms also help search engines provide intuitive suggestions when I begin typing in a word or a phrase. Welcome to the implicit Web. (Iskold, The Implicit Web: Last.fm, Amazon, Google, Attention Trust, 2007) With programming that allows our choices of where we visit and what we look up to be collected for the benefit of retailers and advertisers, those on the receiving end of our information are fighting for the biggest commodity in the Information Age: our attention.
In a recent article, Richard A. Lanham, the author of The Economics of Attention, stated: “The (scarce) resource is the human attention needed to make sense of the enormous flow of information, to learn, as it were, how to drink out of the fire hose.” (University of Chicago Press, 2006) The article is an interview with Mr. Lanham in which he explains his interpretations of successfully managing human attention bombarded with a glut of information, and where he addresses specific issues within certain chapters in his book. While excerpts of his book are available through Amazon and the University of Chicago Press Websites, it is not available in electronic format. Apparently he is seeking our attention through other means.
As an educator, it is interesting to learn that problems I struggle with are not unlike those experienced by major news organizations as well as corporations like Netflix. “Consider this scenario. You navigate to a news site and start reading the headlines. What is the likelihood that you leave if you see an irrelevant headline? High. Another example. You go to Netflix and look at movie recommendations. What is the likelihood that you will stop browsing after Netflix shows you a movie you do not like? Again, very high.” (Iskold, 2007) With instant access to so much information, viewers have the advantage of taking their attention elsewhere if they unable to find immediate relevance to the information on the Webpage. The advantage that Netflix and the news organizations have over us educators is their instant ability to collect data on their users to try to redirect them to what they will find relevant in the future. The advantage that I, as an educator, have over the commercial enterprises is my extended interaction with students that may allow me to impress upon students the need to reflect upon what is relevant and what opportunities they may be missing. Helping students examine what the bigger questions are when searching the Internet is a powerful tool.
The attention economy as applied in our elementary level classrooms typically focuses in the area of interactivity. We have been using the sites for the San Diego Zoo for kindergarteners and first graders and the nutrition information site Choose My Plate as well as NASA for third and fourth graders to work with research. In each case, students were given a predetermined amount of free time to explore the sites without prior direction. The students were extremely excited when bringing up the sites; however, in each case, students immediately gravitated towards games. When “free time” on the sites was over, students were redirected to other areas of the sites to continue “exploring.” Kindergarten and first grade were excited to see videos of animals in their habitats and to share specific information they observed about the animals. They categorized the animals and wrote brief reflections on what they saw. Third and fourth graders began looking at different animation and live action videos of scientific research in space and information on spacecraft. With the nutrition site, they used spreadsheets to categorize food and basic nutrition components in food. While the NASA site was stimulating to watch, the students recorded more personal reflections on the Choose My Plate Website by their own choice..
When the students returned to the classroom and were given the same five minutes of “free time” before continuing research and reflection, only 20 per cent of the total students returned to the games. The other students either returned to the more informational areas or began searching in new areas altogether to see what else they could learn. While their attention might have easily been drawn back to the games, they were finding relevance in higher-order activities and did not shift their attention away.
Alex Iskold presents the following “basic consumer’s rights” in relation to the attention economy:
- Property: You own your attention and can store it wherever you wish. You have CONTROL.
- Mobility: You can securely move your attention wherever you want, whenever you want to. You have the ability to TRANSFER your attention.
- Economy: You can pay attention to whomever you wish and receive value in return. Your attention has WORTH.
- Transparency: You can see exactly how your attention is being used. (Iskold, 2007)
What powerful concepts to teach our students as they become more and more independent in their use of the Internet and technology in general. If students can learn not to sell their attention short of its true value, then they will be empowered to demand a quality return on the investment of their attention. A student will find attention’s worth by maintaining self-contol of it and demand accountability or shift it to where he or she will find the results he or she desires. The Internet is already paying attention to them and will already be prepared to respond.
Iskold, A. (2007, March 1). The Attention Economy: An Overview. Retrieved March 1, 2012, from ReadWriteWeb: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/attention_economy_overview.php
Iskold, A. (2007, June 12). The Implicit Web: Last.fm, Amazon, Google, Attention Trust. Retrieved March 2, 2012, from ReadWriteWeb: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_implicit_web_lastfm_amazon_google.php
University of Chicago Press. (2006). An Interview with Richard A. Lanham. Retrieved March 1, 2012, from University of Chicago Press: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/468828in.html