Imagine a world where all your entertainment needs are at the tips of your fingers and can be accessed from wherever you are. Not only in real time or live, but recorded and retrievable at a moment’s notice. But also off the same facility you can be listening to music in the background as you watch TV and keep updated on the latest news as headlines scroll at the bottom of your screen.
That is not hard to imagine because it is happening now.
What would be more difficult to wrap our minds around is world where to get entertainment you had to be seating in front of a TV. If you were lucky you had a video deck and would watch films off video cassettes. And your radio was limited to short wave frequencies which crackled or were inaccessible if you moved your radio from one room to another.
The latter is long gone reality that the majority of us can not relate to.
At the most basic level media organisations are battling for your attention. Will you buy my paper? Will you listen to my radio? Will you watch my TV channel?
In a previous time when in Uganda for instance there was one TV channel, one radio station and one English daily, media houses did not have to think every hard about capturing and retaining attention.
But today a plethora of media, not only traditional but also off the internet means our attention has been dispersed making it even more difficult to commend anyone person or group’s attention for an extended time.
Last week at the 2018 Digital Dialogue Conference media leaders from around the continent grappled with this growing challenge.
But beyond the specific concerns of the media the conference, convened by South African based video entertainment company, Multichoice, explored how this new reality is changing the people’s behaviour around entertainment and news, but how the trend is accelerating living little room for one to catch their breath.
So what is the value of your attention?
Studies conducted in more advanced western markets show that people’s attention patterns are shifting. Affected by what we consume from, and the possibilities that are presented by, the media we have settled into a pattern where we are in constant interaction with our gadgets.
Our relationships are now more managed by our phones or other handheld devices than through face to face interaction. On one level what this means that our peer pressure no longer comes only from the people around us but from people across the world from us.
Which can be a force for good, because we can widen our horizons and expand our ambitions beyond what we see in our immediate environment. On the other hand the negative effects of may include adopting behaviour which is considered normal elsewhere but may cause tension in your own context.
The world even beyond the real world, has shrunk to fit in our pockets. And this trend is projected to continue.
Futurist Paul Papadimitrou says the drivers of this development are the ever lowering cost of technology, the networks we are now tapping into and the numerous platforms we can now access.
To illustrate he pointed out that in less than a decade voice over internet service Skype accounts for half the international calls and social media platform WhatsApp has overtaken SMS as a way to communicate via mobile phones.
The net effect of this is that as consumers we have become nomadic, tribal but also singular; we have also moved from being passive admirers to being active doers and with the accelerating technological trends these distinctions can only sharpen.
Which brings us back to the value of your attention. By the simple laws of supply and demand, your attention is becoming increasingly valuable as more and more media platforms and networks take up your attention.
As a result, “The people who can capture our attention can sell it,” Anthony Lilley, professor of creative industries at Ulster University told the conference.
Which explains why in the last decade or so technology companies Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix have overtaken traditional companies like Exxon Mobil, BP and GE as the most valuable companies in the world.
We have gone from manufacturers to services to now attention brokers as the main drivers of the economy a trend that is already upon us.
The business community through its use of big data is becoming adept at ferreting you out, cataloguing you and inundating your with messages you are very likely to respond to.
Search engine Google is the poster child of this trend but so are social app Facebook and online retailer Amazon.
Increased interaction with this media reveals your affinity for one brand or another and therefore peg you as a source of revenue.
This interaction with the media is changing us surreptitiously, suddenly and irreversibly.
So what are we becoming? “Eighty percent of people in western economies are fans … a person who has a connection, through his identity or a social connection … what do you get out of being a fan? Comfort,” Professor Lilley explained.
Fans have affinities and sustain attention on the people, events or things that they are interested in.
It is human nature to want to belong but now with the variety and availability of people to notice, events to follow or things to like we are becoming more tribal and more singular.
Interestingly this realisation is probably a snapshot in time, with the speed of change and disruption don’t be surprised if the changes to ourselves or the categorisations businesses choose to give us change.