The Attention Economy and this Newsletter

The Attention Economy and this Newsletter
Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash

I have a Bachelor’s degree in communication. Specifically, I majored in broadcasting. I have been doing production in television in some capacity since I was a junior in high school. I love my job, but I don’t always enjoy how the news is entangled with the Attention Economy.

I feel the same way about this newsletter. I have this need to share cool things I find online and semi-regularly write original essays about things I am passionate about. I always worry whether what I have to say is worth your time. I often battle with my negative thoughts to justify hitting publish with each newsletter, blog post, or podcast I create. I don’t want to be yet another lousy website writing about something in the news in hopes I can get a fraction of the traffic on my site. As a creator online, I am part of the Attention Economy, but I think this newsletter and the format I write will help thwart any bad things I fear when hitting publish.

To explain the Attention Economy, I defer to Michael Ashley, who wrote a piece about it in Forbes back in 2019.

“Facebook is free and always will be,” was Facebook’s slogan. Yet in recent years, books like Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and movies such as The Great Hack have shown this slogan’s hollowness. The internet is pay-for-play and always has been. Or as media theorist Douglas Rushkoff says: “On Facebook, we’re not the customers. We are the product.”

But it’s not just Facebook commoditizing the web; it’s most every site you visit, whether it be Instagram, Amazon, or Google. Also, the public isn’t just the product, we’re customers, too. We’re all participating in a cleverly orchestrated, capitalistic symphony, shrink-wrapped in the feel-good rhetoric of something called “The Attention Economy.”

Substack recently showcased a piece by Kate Lindsay, writer of Embedded, that struck a chord with me as I thought about the Attention Economy and my place in it.

At my first writing job, I wrote seven stories a day, sometimes waking up as early as 6 a.m. to fit it all in. By the time I’d worked at a few different publications, I could tell when an article was actually an SEO grab masquerading as a legitimate piece of writing, or a piece of clickbait meant to make people mad, and I wasn’t interested in feeding the machine with my own reading habits.

While I’d like to think this particular era of digital media is on its way out, you still see shades of it when the latest viral moment prompts every outlet to scramble for its own unique take. So many websites are writing the same thing. This can be helpful: When Yellowjackets was airing, I was so deep in the show and its fan theories that I read every perspective I could find in hopes of getting all the crumbs. But this strategy doesn’t work universally. For instance, I similarly consumed Covid-19 content in the first year of the pandemic, but I realized that this wasn’t actually reading—it was anxiety-spiraling.

All this is to say, I’m somewhat precious with what I consume, and definitely read a lot less than perhaps you’d think for someone who calls themselves “chronically online.” I like pieces that work to clarify a moment with reason rather than drum up anxiety for clicks, and I have a natural aversion to reading whatever piece has my Twitter timeline in an uproar—because it was probably designed to do just that.

To further add to this, I present Nilay Patel, Editor-in-chief of The Verge.

I hate being made into a product just as much as the next person, and I often think about this as a creator myself. The last thing I want is to churn out content for the sake of content. You are not a commodity or asset I want to exploit for internet fame or money.

Aside from creating something worth your time, I promise that I won’t be using gimmicks like SEO marketing, clickbait titles, or writing about something just because I want it to gain attention and grow my audience.

I will be writing about things that follow the following criteria:

  • It is something that I feel confident in talking about
  • The content I make adds value to you, the reader
  • It either provides depth, or a new perspective, to an established topic or story

I hope to use this list as my North Star guiding me to write about things that provide value to you and provide a meaningful dialogue to the topics themselves.

My hope in every issue of Clicked I send is that you walk away having learned something or gained a new perspective that you didn’t otherwise consider. Those two things can come from an original piece I write or something I link to in the newsletter itself.

Bottom line, I don’t want to waste your time, and I hope that becomes apparent in every issue and post of Clicked going forward.