Our Attention As Currency

by Ryan Pattie

19 December, 2013

Advertising always has been part of our culture and economy. Companies gain business by reaching out to us and drawing us in. In recent years this process has become much more ingrained in our daily lives, as more of our lives exist through online interfaces, which are easily infiltrated by advertisers.

From the moment we become aware we begin to craft our resistance and develop a selective blindness to things in which we are uninterested. Ads are in more places than we realize, but we train ourselves to ignore them. Advertisers must become innovative and evolve to shift the viewers’ attention.

Our attention has become a currency in recent years. We often are given the option to pay for fewer or no ads, whether it be in between songs on an automated music streaming service, short commercials before videos, or in banners and pop ups on websites.

Through these ads, services like Facebook and YouTube also are able to stay free, while supporting themselves by selling ad space. In this way, we gain something from being advertised to.

Using our attention as currency (whether it is our choice or not) has nothing to do with your financial status. The playing field is leveled because everyone has as much attention to give as anyone else. Every human being has the same attention to give as the next.

The question is, what is our attention, energy and time worth? To advertisers it is worth quite a lot, with corporations spending millions upon millions of dollars to create widely distributed ads. But, what is it worth to the viewer? A 10-second ad on YouTube might seem like a nuisance, and the ads on the side of Facebook might distract and interfere with your feed, but a constant bombardment with content claims stake in our minds, the way we think, the way we see people, ourselves. Should we have more control over what we are seeing? In some ways it seems we’re paying not only with our time, but with our outlook on the world. Advertisements propel and influence the culture they are speaking to, and it’s a one-sided conversation. It might be a concern that so much information and influence in our culture is being provided by entities that do not have the general public in their best interest, but rather the bottom line.

The system is evolving, and advertising always will have it’s place in developed society, but an awareness of the ethics of advertising will hopefully lead to a positive role for advertisements in the future.