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The Attention Recession is Here

The state of the social web in 2024:

Competing, algorithm-controlled social media platforms bombard us with endless information, notifications, and noise - and capturing and maintaining attention has become increasingly daunting.

To put it bluntly - we are in the middle of an attention recession.

And only the skilled will survive.

The Attention Economy Attention is the currency of the 2020s, and businesses, advertisers, and content creators are forced to compete—or fight tooth and nail—for a slice of their target audience's limited attention span. With the proliferation of channels, formats, brands, creators, and 24/7 news cycles, the supply of available attention has become increasingly scarce while the demand for it has skyrocketed.

In his book "The Attention Merchants," Tim Wu argues that the commodification of attention has been a driving force in the evolution of media, from newspapers and radio to television and the internet. Each new medium has sought to capture and monetize attention, leading to an arms race of ever-more sensational and addictive content. The result is a world in which our attention is constantly being pulled in multiple directions, making it difficult to focus on any one thing for an extended period.

The Social Pressure Cooker

Social media platforms have taken the pressure cooker of the attention economy to new heights. They use monopolistic, manipulative algorithms and psychological tricks to keep users scrolling, liking, and sharing. 

They thrive on content that generates strong emotional responses, seeding content designed around outrage, fear, and personal gain. Content creators have become incentivized to produce sensational, polarizing material that claws in attention in the short term but fans the flames of a toxic, fragmented online environment.

The New Art of Attention

The attention recession will destroy businesses, advertisers, and content creators who want to reach and engage their target audience but aren't considering the why or the how. Capturing and maintaining attention has become a competitive arena, and the creators who don't adjust to the scarcity of their audience's capacity to care will go extinct.

The art of attention is not simple a matter of capturing eyeballs - it's doing so in a way that is responsible, ethical, and ultimately beneficial to both the creator and the audience.

Are we contributing to a culture of distraction and information overload, or are we using our platform to inform, inspire, and enrich people's lives? Are we abusing manipulative tactics to keep people engaged or building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with our audience?

These are tough questions to answer. The goal should never be to capture attention for its own sake. It should be to use that attention to create meaningful connections and grow powerful, empathetic, and engaged communities of human beings who actively give a shit.

I don't have easy answers. I don't have an easy playbook.

But some principles are guiding my work with Idle Ventures and my approach to Warpcast:

  1. I firmly believe in quality over quantity in a wasteland of mediocre content. My focus is on crafting high-value, well-constructed content that truly resonates with my target audience. This approach allows me to distinguish myself from the noise and cultivate a devoted following.

  2. We are innately drawn to stories. By incorporating real-world stories into my content, I'm making space for an emotional bond with my audience and maintaining their interest from the start to the finish.

  3. With the wealth of data available today, I can tailor my content to my target audience's specific interests, preferences, and behaviors. By delivering personalized experiences, I can increase the relevance and value of my content and build stronger relationships with my audience.

  4. Competing with fake news and misguided or misaligned perspectives, I've found that authenticity has become a precious rarity. By staying transparent, honest, and true to my values, I can establish trust with my audience and set myself apart from the competition.

  5. Engaging my audience in a two-way conversation is a potent strategy to seize and hold their attention. Through frames, interactive moments, and live events, I plan to spend the next 6-12 months creating opportunities for participation and feedback. I am deeply convinced that a sense of community participation will keep my audience coming back for more.

I'm not convinced that any of the current approaches to content, influence and media distribution are going to survive this moment in history. We've milked the fuck out of the first and second generation social paradigms, and the third is only just getting started. But I am certain of one thing - only the people who see their audiences as human beings, as communities, as networks will stand out. Anything less than that is second best. And in the attention recession, second best is bankrupt and dead in the water.

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