Putting a price on attention and knowledge [week 6]

Money makes the world go round. It’s easy to see how society is almost controlled by cash – we work for money, we buy necessities and luxuries. Life is filled with smatterings of consumerism (ads, product brands, price tags, billboards). There are two major ‘currencies’ that are essential to the market today – the economies of attention and knowledge, that were explained and explored in the lecture. Attention and knowledge are the bread and butter of the internet.

Firstly, an ‘economy’, was explained as “a collection, arrangement and distribution of what’s available”. These can be split up into ‘material economies’ such as water, cattle, land, or ‘immaterial economies’ which can be anything from ideas, perceptions, sensations, thoughts and of course, attention and knowledge.

Attention is essential to the functioning of the web.  Without it, nobody would want to look at videos, read articles, play games, engage in discussions, view images, or any other activity on the internet. And nobody would have any incentive to post anything up. Why blog post if you get no views? Cough, a certain wordpress blog out there should heed that…Anyway, one of the readings Attention Shoppers, tells us: “Is there something else that flows through cyberspace, something that is scarce and desirable? It’s called attention. And the economy of attention – not information – is the natural economy of cyberspace.

Attention is like a beast to be tamed, controlled and observed. People gauge where attention is going, such as through data breakdowns of page views, times, downloads, and other patterns. Advertising companies crave your attention and use strategies such as intrusive ads (before a youtube video plays, pop-ups, etc.) to engage it, even momentarily. It is even conditioned, as it is seen in Andrew’s example of NY Time’s gradual paywalling of articles.

Another aspect to be aware of is where attention is trained. Facilities such as the education system try to attract it (and it isn’t always successful…I wonder why I failed so many maths tests in year twelve…). Often we are not aware where it is going, like many people who absent mindedly check their Facebooks out of habit. A study showed that 49.6% of the time people were ‘mind wandering’, meaning that they were not focused on a certain task at hand, but rather on their own thoughts. However, Howard Rheingold’s concept of Infotention tells us you can be trained to pay attention to where your attention is going. What results is a more controlled approach to absorb useful information and disregard whatever is not useful, through the use of technologies like RSS feeds and filters.  Check out this article for more details.

Remix Copyright Law

Another type of economy is the economy of knowledge. It isn’t material, but has material effects in the sense that it affects other economies such as money. It also has many social impacts, namely battles over copyright. This results from when people place a price on the economy of knowledge, selling people’s ideas through the forms of books, films, songs, patents and so forth. Excluding the issue of piracy and p2p networks, is copyright control too stringent, too limiting on our potential to build on ideas and create revolutionary works?

Putting a price on knowledge results in a corporate control over our creativity.  Lessig (in a video during the lecture) described that everyone is embroiled in a ‘Read Only’ culture, where the consumer is not the creator. The freedom to produce ideas come top down. Current copyright laws state that a book/movie/other creative work enters the public domain after the author’s lifetime+70 years. This of course means that corporations continue to capitalise on works for a very,very long time, barring the public from the ability to utilize these stories in the production of their own. The Incredible Shrinking Public Domain  talks about the unfair consequences it has for us.

A remix culture challenges the ‘read only’ culture, where artists remix songs out of samples (in most cases, the snips of the original song are remixed so much that you couldn’t identify where it came from). I would extend this to mean any case where people appropriate other authors’ works in order to create a new work. Check out this fanmade video, where someone appropriated scenes from ‘Back to the Future’ to create a trailer depicting a romance between Marty and Doc.

The depressing thing is that, at any time, Universal Pictures could file a copyright claim and that video could be taken down. It’s lucky that it has not happened yet.

So how do copyright, the economies of attention and knowledge come  together? The commons, which is the theory that all resources belong to everyone, for the good of the community. It bases itself on theory that resources, such as water and ideas, should be available to everyone. Several readings from this week defined many difference aspects of the commons, and one that really resonated with me was that it was being undermined by the market. Theses 6,7,8 and 9 of the Ten Theses of about Global Commons Movement  frames the idea of the commons as being in opposition to capitalism. The Commons Movement and Reclaiming the Commons encourage us, as citizens who live in a society where the commons has been dismantled, embrace the commons culture and change the status quo. Futhermore, that means we should challenge the systematic way in which our right to build and craft new creations is being quashed by copyright laws acting on the whims of capitalism.

secret word: infotention

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