Being Real and overcoming the Attention Economy

Last week I interviewed for a job and I met with several people. I tried to describe to each of them a problem that I see everyone facing in the very near future. The problem I see is this: We’ve got too much stuff to read/listen to/watch and a limited time to do it all. This problem particularly affects people like me, because my job is essentially to come up with stuff that is interesting to people and to engage them on a variety of different social platforms. If no one gives a shit about what I’m saying or where I’m saying it, I’m just wasting time and money.

This past December I was grappling with a number of different concepts, with the main concept being “Realness”, as in “being real” or authentic to others. I decided that I wanted to “be real” with everyone around me and I only wanted to interact with people that were being real with me, since I feel that this is the way to get the most value out of life. If we all drop our acts and speak honestly with each other, I think we can connect with each other in a more meaningful way and get what we want from life.

And I think that’s what everyone is looking for, and that need will only increase over time. The fact is, so much of our world is Bullshit right now. We’ve got politicians constantly changing positions and distorting facts, companies totally destroying nations, environments and economies, and a growing amount of mistrust in the people and organizations around us. It’s quite sad, and I think the public cynicism and apathy that will come out of these trends could force us to change how we live our lives and do business with one another.

We’re also running into a problem where everyone is becoming increasingly addicted to the Internet (read that article, it’s well worth it!). You can’t have dinner or drinks with someone without constantly checking Facebook, your email, or Twitter for the latest information. We’re disengaging with the world right in front of us to keep connected to the world around us, but I think we’re missing the bigger picture and losing out on the great experiences of every day life. Our ever increasing thirst for more information and content has warped our attention spans and our ability to prioritize what’s really important, since everything seems important and deserving of immediate attention.

Meanwhile every company and product is trying to get your attention with new advertising and new ways to access even more information, but we just don’t have enough time to give. And if it’s all a bunch of bullshit anyways, who cares?

Some people call this problem the “Attention Economy“, where we only have a finite amount of time that we can devote to the content and information around us.

My hope is that there will be shift in the way we communicate with one another and a change in what people find important in their daily lives. We’ll need to reduce the amount of noise in our life, focus on the few channels/people/etc that we consume and communicate with on a daily basis, and a big factor in this decision making process will be the way that we’re communicated with. We need to be communicated with in a way that makes sense to us, with information or content that adds to our lives in a positive way or connects with us on an emotional or intellectual level. There will still be room for mindless entertainment and fun escapes, but I think we will collectively have to find more balance in our life and take power over our Internet and content addictions.

There are companies already trying to figure out what’s important to you and filtering out content based on those inferences. Most notably is Facebook, with its somewhat controversial “black box algorithm” called EdgeRank, which is used to decide what you see on your Facebook News Feed. As a user of Facebook, you only see a subset of the content from your friends, the bands and musicians you like, and the companies you’ve liked on Facebook. That’s why you typically only see the same people/things in your News Feed, and never see any content from that random person from high school (that you’re not really friends with anyways). But EdgeRank isn’t perfect, and it still doesn’t solve the problem that we’re facing with millions of Blogs, constantly updating twitter feeds, and the bombardment of advertising and messaging that we experience every day.

In my opinion, it’s very important that companies, brands, musicians & bands, and individuals keep these trends in mind. If we focus on giving as much value to the people around us by being real and authentic and creating something that addresses real needs and wants, we will find the customers, listeners, and friends that are most important. This may result in fewer “friends”, or a smaller customer base, but it will be a group of people that will give us real results. Those results could be an increase in money if we’re trying to monetize relationships, like a band does when it sells a new CD at a show, or it could result in tighter, more enriching relationships with the people around us.

If we don’t do this, you’re going to have a hard time finding success. Sure, there are companies and people out there that will find success by Bullshitting and not creating real value, but do you really want to be like those people? We have a very small amount of time on this Earth, and I’d rather not waste it acting like someone I’m not, or doing something I don’t believe in or think is worth it.

Over the past two months I’ve tried to be more Real through my writing, by opening up about parts of my life and being more vulnerable. It started when I shared for the first time publicly the story of how my father died, when I made a post on Quora that answered the question: “What does it feel like to have a parent commit suicide?“. The reactions were stunning and happened almost immediately, with friends and strangers reaching out saying that they were amazed I went through this tragedy and spoke so openly about it. I even had a phone call with my mom about it, where we talked about what each other experienced during those couple of days. That was the first time my mother and I ever talked in that depth about the day my father died.

Last month I decided to share my story of why I’m not at BandPage any more, and that too  received some great reactions from friends. All of a sudden I’m talking to friends about how I feel, the struggles that I’m going through and facing every day, and I’m also hearing about their daily struggles and concerns. I feel like I have a deeper connection and understanding of some of my friends, and I think they have a better understanding of me.

Recently I’ve noticed others sharing publicly and it has been quite inspiring. Two weeks ago Frank Ocean, a new hip hop artist, got a lot of attention when he announced that he was Gay. The announcement created a lot of controversy, but it also resulted in a lot of support and a better appreciation for the great strength and courage that it takes to be open about who you are in an environment that usually is not accepting of “alternative lifestyles”.

On the video game side of things, Jeff Green recently made a post about his battle with depression, a post that surprised a number of people and received a lot of support from the gaming community. It was great to see Jeff speak so honestly about his 25 year long struggle with depression, and even greater to see hundreds and thousands of people support him.

I truly hope that over time we will see that letting our guard down and opening up to others about the common struggles and challenges that we face daily, will result in a better world. You could probably argue that I’m naive in that Hope, but I’m afraid of the consequences of an increasingly cynical and jaded culture. I think it’s time that we decide that we’re done with the Bullshit, that we need to connect with each other and companies around us in more meaningful ways, so that we can collectively live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. I encourage you to give it a try, and I’m going to continue to try it myself too :)

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Sam

I realize the above could be seen as perhaps a bit naive or altruistic, but these are things I’ve had on my mind for a number of weeks and months. Hopefully you get something out of this, as I honestly just needed to get some of these concepts and points out of my head and onto virtual paper. Please let me know what you think!

  • http://www.facebook.com/marthasaylor Martha Saylor

    I think this is the sort of outlet people see in Postsecret. Most people are too timid to share openly like this, and the anonymity gives them the strength to admit what they my have been unable to admit before.

    I have to admit I have been burned by people taking offense to what they saw as oversharing. I’m not as open to share those things as I may have been in the past.

    • SamQforQHouston

      I definitely recognize that some are more comfortable than others with sharing various opinions, aspects of their life, etc. If not publicly share them on the internet, then I definitely encourage people to have discussions about things that are important to them in private/in-person. I find that those “offline” conversations with friends and family to be very fulfilling and enjoyable :)