Attention Must Be Paid
How the Internet is changing how people listen.
Companies are now busily developing metrics for attention: the number of Twitter or Google+ followers or Facebook friends; reputation points for being a good seller, buyer, or reviewer; Klout® scores; game-player status; and so on. Individuals value these scores, but not because they want to buy or sell them (in general, they cannot). They value them in part because they want to draw more attention to themselves, from more valuable people. But, in part, they just value the status itself.
In response, many companies are now beginning to provide metrics to their customers for their behavior vis-à-vis that particular vendor. Consider airline points, for example: roughly one-third of them are never cashed in; people value the status and the attention they earn more than the supposed "actual" value. But they do pay for them, by favoring one vendor over another.
Thus, what companies are creating is not so much new currencies that can be traded but new value systems for earning attention and recognizing (paying attention to) individual status. Each is mostly self-centered. You can move your friends from, say, Facebook to Google+, but the value earned in World of Warcraft or on American Airlines doesn't count for much elsewhere.
The question for companies is the extent to which those virtual rewards are translated back into purchasing behavior (and the ability to command higher prices). The question for individuals is this: What do you really value—a company's points, a salesperson's paid-by-the-hour attention, or a friend's genuine sympathy? Your answer—how and to whom you want to allocate your finite attention—will increasingly attract the attention of others.
Read this article at Project Syndicate.
Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, is an active investor in a variety of start-ups around the world. Her interests include information technology, health care, private aviation, and space travel.