How You Will Change the World with Social Networking
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The answer is not becoming obsessed with attention as a limited resource to be husbanded, or thinking of our cognition as a laser beam to be pointed at only at what is important.
We need to unfocus, to rely more on the network or tribe to surface things of importance, and remain open to new opportunities: these are potentially more important than the work on the desk. Don't sharpen the knife too much.
Since attention isn't composed of chunks that accumulate and are doled out in this way of thinking, it's fairly useless to consider the system a finite economy. Those who yell the loudest and make the biggest fools of themselves will become less important as our notions of celebrity also change--having higher numbers of viewers or followers or fans doesn't equal influence and fame. Or, at least it doesn't have to. If we can turn around our thinking, away from the style of mass media that has only served to alienate us from one another and has produced lowest-common-denominator content, and toward a more holistic, ecosystem-like view in which relationships to and relevancy of content matter, then attention's scarcity also begins to disappear.
Once scarcity is removed from the model, market economics doesn't apply to it. You're not competing for others' attention; you're creating sustainable relationships across which content flows, many ways. What happens as a result of those relationships might be quantifiable in some way, but how we choose to measure them absolutely must become more nuanced than units of product sold, page views/uniques, or number of followers/fans gained. This is another key point missing from many of the conversations about social media's impact: We are at a critical cultural juncture where it is up to us to experiment and ultimately define how things work in the ecosystem.
Deanna Zandt is a media technologist and the author of the new book, Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking . She is a contributing editor at AlterNet, and can be found on Twitter at @randomdeanna.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.