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Home / Technology / "The attention economy is in the hyperdrive": How technology has shaped the 2010s | Culture

"The attention economy is in the hyperdrive": How technology has shaped the 2010s | Culture



I joined Twitter in 2010. This momentous development has gone unnoticed by the world press – but to be fair, including mine. Of course, I was not particularly scared to get involved in social media. The Internet still embodied more promises as a threat: the iPad was just arriving; Uber and Airbnb found their feet; Gamification solved everything from obesity to disempowerment by transforming tedious tasks into fun digital challenges with points and prizes. The Arab Spring, co-ordinated through social media, was only a few months away. This was before the genocide of the Rohingya, the teenage fear epidemic, Cambridge Analytica, and the alt-right and "fake news." In October 201

0, the Guardian news blog published a short article on a grim-weird nightmare scenario for US policy: "Donald Trump is considering running for president," was the headline.

What has changed in the 2010s was not so much the arrival of new technology as the rapid development of a business model, the monetization of attention. This was not a new invention. It goes back in fact to the "yellow journalism" of the 19th century, which used sensational stories and cheap song prices to reach a large audience that advertisers would pay for. But the ubiquitous high-speed mobile Internet has driven the attention-economy into hyperdrive, putting us in an online world structured in such a way that it's not the truth or, most importantly, what's most convincing to us often annoying.

Who warned against "filter bubbles" and "echo chambers" was right, but in an unexpected way right. Both expressions misleadingly suggest that we spend our digital days in a warm bath of mutual understanding. In fact, the social media show us that our enemies are the worst at the most outrageous (and thus most compelling). And we're being rewarded with proportions and peers for condemning them in hyperbolic terms – and so our tribal affiliations become hard until those we once considered to be just opponents seem like another species. Instead of democratizing the public, social media replaces it with a global Freudian identity in which the darkest impulses of all collide and a rational debate becomes impossible. As it turns out, for a healthy democracy, people need to keep certain feelings to themselves and rethink their views before expressing them. but online attention is directed to those who do the opposite.

The cultural correlate of all this is the development that has been termed the "politicization of everything" – the relentless reorganization of every domain around partisan poles and the transformation of every issue of cultural debate into one about politics. If two Americans disagreed about the OJ Simpson ruling in 1995, it was probably because of their race and their experience with the breed. But until 2013, the opinions on the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin as well as many other topics were predominantly in the sign of political affiliation. And politics also colonizes private life; It's becoming increasingly difficult to imagine being a survivor, but going out with a Brexiter and agreeing to put aside the politics in your relationship – quite apart from the fact that you're less likely to be geographically sorted First place on the internet.

  Trayvon Martin followers gather in Times Square, New York, on July 14, 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges of martyr's execution.



Trayvon Martin's trailer on Times Square in New York, July 2013. Photo: Getty Images

Meanwhile, the centrifugal force of social media is pushing any opinion to an extreme version that fueled outrage at the opposite extreme. So it can only be (for example) that the freedom of speech is mortally attacked or that the threat of freedom of speech is a myth; and since it's easy to find evidence that contradicts both positions, the senseless rocker never has to come to rest – which, of course, is exactly how Facebook likes it. This is an aspect of the atmosphere that German social theorist Hartmut Rosa has called a "frenetic stalemate" – the more technologically aggravated feeling that, while everything is moving ever faster, the possibility of real change is somehow out of reach. On the one hand, cultural norms change so quickly that it is possible that they will be "nullified" in 2019 for views that were not remotely controversial in 2014. On the other hand, our political institutions are deadlocked and unable to fight social inequality or the climate crisis, no matter how passionate some politicians may be.

Here we should beware of technological determinism: this is not the fault of all social media, and we could definitely curtail Silicon Valley if we had the political will. (The recent government pressure on Facebook and Twitter's decision to ban political advertising suggests that we may even start with it.) But we should also be wary of the happy tech boosters who are always ready to do so dismissing everything as excitement about nothing, pointing out that earlier generations were also worried about previous technologies, as if that settled the matter. (Maybe life was better off television There are not many people alive anymore to tell us.)

And even if we take political remedies, we should not make the mistake of to come to the conclusion that we have to have nothing as individuals do. Among other things, it became clear to us in the 2010s that we really need to think about the role of the Internet in our lives, to find out which platforms we end, which apps we delete and which devices we would use to ban them from our homes. And not from a nostalgic effort to return to the past, but from a beginning intuition that our future could depend on it.

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