Hamish McKenzie, in addressing the attention economy on the Substack blog, refers back to the old (pre-social media) internet and blogging. This is internet history. That was then. We now live and work in the attention economy with its environment of perpetual digital distraction where companies (eg., Facebook and Google) are targeting our attention to make money. Their business model is the monetisation of attention to passively consume through governing modes of participation within the system. Facebook's software has the capacity to produce and instantiate modes of attention as well as to track and process user data across the web. This is an infrastructure that works invisibly in the background to shape forms of sociality.
What has emerged is a techno-culture of perpetual distraction--all those pings, pop-ups, notifications that cause us to be perpetually distracted. Rather than democratising the public sphere, social media replaces it with a global Freudian id, in which everyone’s darkest impulses collide, and rational debate becomes difficult.
So we need to critically think about the role of Facebook's network of friends in our lives, how it affects our mental capacities and predicts our future interests.
So how might we critically engage?
McKenzie say that Substack, which is an independent publishing platform based on a subscription model, is a place where writers are rewarded not for doing the things that capture attention but instead for doing the things that respect readers’ trust. Substack emerged as a digital publishing platform from a frustration with:
"how the quality of discussion has been degraded on social media. We are dumber on social media than we are in real life. We are less forgiving, less willing to listen and understand, and more prone to dismiss and then torch our ideological opponents. That, after all, is how we earn internet points....the incentives that underpin today’s dominant internet media businesses have led to tribalism and groupthink ... With an ad-based business model you have to play for scale, which isn’t always conducive to good discourse. To make any meaningful money in such a model, media producers have to generate millions of ad impressions."
He says that the old internet internet felt like a less hostile place then, and there were fewer heat-seeking algorithms that sought to transmute attention into gold. Substack, as a counter force to social media he adds, frequently references that blogging era, and it seeks to recapture some of what made it special.