Attention and “the commons”

This post focuses on collectively produced archives – “commons”, as well as the emergence of the attention economy and the idea that the organisation of attention is a significant factor on how we organise what we have in commons.

The “commons”

A commons arises where a society manages a resource in a communal manner, with a focus on equal access and sustainability (David Bollier). In a contemporary publishing context, it is essentially collective collaboration. Walljasper suggests that our society is progressing towards a commons-based one – “the health of the planet should take precedence over the profits of a few”, however Monbiot writes “we’re in danger of losing this global commons as it comes under assault from an army of trolls and flacks, many of them covertly organised or trained.”

I think both are true. Of course there will always be an unbalance of power – a true common-based society is never going to be achieved. Money is power, power is influence, influence is inequality. But I think Walljasper has a point in that the economy of commons is being better incorporated in society by the way in which we are able to engage in its 3 elements (Good and Bauwens): 

  1. Distributed communities of passionate individuals working together spontaneously on
  2. collaborative platform and Internet technologies and by
  3. the foundations, for-benefit institutions that make their know-how available for free.

So, how does attention play a part in this? Production is based on what you WANT to see. The chain is as follows:

Archive –> Economy (of commons) –> attention/distraction

What this means is that how we archive, or are archived is determined by economies, which are in turn dissected into categories such as power, knowledge, money, etc., as well as my focus – attention.

Economy of attention/distraction

At first, this seemed to me like an odd way to classify an economy. However, upon further analysis I realised that it is actually one of the most fundamental archival systems in society. The success of every facet of the economy from businesses to advertisements to any form of publishing relies on how many eyes see it… A Wired article by Michael Goldhaber argues quite convincingly that an information economy as we know it is actually an attention economy. He states: 

As the Net becomes an increasingly strong presence in the overall economy, the flow of attention will not only anticipate the flow of money, but eventually replace it altogether.

That to me is a strong point. With the craziness of technology advances that I’ve described in previous posts, information is far from scarce. But attention – that is something immeasurable, subjective, unreliable and is now the fundamental “basis for economy”. So: > information = < attention. I’m not going to lie – having to read 50 pages before writing this post meant that my attention wavered (to say the least) a lot of the time. I read without reading. I looked without processing. I didn’t pay attention. However isn’t that what publishers work so hard trying to avoid? The aim now is not to sell – it’s to draw in, and to hold. Sorry to say that can’t always be the case! James Temple summarises this point well by commenting:

[We] find it harder to get through a book, movie, conversation or even article (where you going, reader?) without feeling the tug of technology.

(Literally my life in a sentence – looks like I need to improve my infotention). HOWEVER I do fully acknowledge the argument (nicely put forward by Boyd) that we are not as a society losing our ability to focus, we are just merely reshaping ourselves and how we connect and develop as a complex society. Nothing is being lost here. 


If you’ve gotten to the end of this blog, I applaud (and thank you) for your retention of attention. 


Boyd, Stowe (2010) ‘The False Question of Attention Economics’, Stowe Boyd, <>

Erard, Michael (2009) ‘A short manifesto on the future of attention’, Observatory <>

Michael H. Goldhaber (1997) ‘Attention Shoppers!’, Wired, <>

Monbiot, George (2010) ‘Reclaim the Cyber-Commons’,, <>

Rheingold, Howard (2009) ‘Mindful Infotention: Dashboards, Radars, Filters’, SFGate<>

Robin Good and Michel Bauwens (2010) ‘From Open Business Models to an Economy of the Commons’, Robin Good, <>

Temple, James (2011) ‘All those tweets, apps, updates may drain brain’ San Fransciso Chronicle, April 17, <>

Walljasper, Jay (2010) ‘The Commons Moment is Now’,,  <>


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