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More of what you want, Julien Smith and the Attention Economy

This afternoon, there was a healthy discussion on Twitter about the perception of women in technology and whether lowest-common-denominator entertainment, be it Dig a Tech Girl or Clash of the Choirs, demeaned women by focusing on physical attributes as the key measurement of their worth. This is not a debate for this blog post, and plenty of others can argue the merits far better than me.

What this is a blog post about is a reflection of something Julien Smith said at our PodCamp Boston 2 session: we live in the age of the attention economy. With so many channels of media, with so many things competing for the same 24 hours, anything you want to promote has to be marketed for the attention economy.

Whether a woman’s appearance is a factor at all in her worth is not the heart of the debate. The true heart is the attention economy, and the reality is that appearances garner attention very quickly, if fleetingly. That’s human nature, the way we’re wired and the way societies build on top of those fundamentals. If you want to capture attention, market with any strong emotion. It just so happens that physical attractiveness is the easiest, lowest cost, and lowest mental processing load factor on which you can compete for attention.

If there can be a solution to the issue of using attractiveness and surface traits for marketing purposes, it has to be that the stakeholders who want to foment change MUST deliver competing content that is more compelling, more powerful, more engaging, more attention-grabbing and attention-holding than lowest common denominator content. If you want lofty social values to eclipse boobies, then you’d better package and market those values in a way that makes them highly desirable content to consume.

I had this discussion recently with a teacher of mine, discussing how to combat negative comments and slander on the internet. My final point was that if you don’t like some of the content online, you can either struggle in vain to have it removed or changed, or you can flood the internet with the content that YOU want to have distributed, making it more compelling than the garbage, and let the garbage just wither from lack of attention.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you want to displace lowest common denominator entertainment, have something ready to take its place. The beauty of new media is that to get more of what YOU want, all you have to do is create it.