Merchants of Attention, Harvesting Businesses Intangible Assets

The ability to influence people to pay attention, increase people’s attention span, and influence people to favorably act on (monetize) their attention = harvesting people’s attention.  Each are highly sought after intangible assets for any business.  I know of no business or organization dependent on (building, sustaining) an effective, competitive, and lucrative online presence that is not increasingly willing to devote substantial resources for the sole objective to favorably influence online user activity.

Columbia University law professor Tim Wu…in his new book The Attention Merchants makes an intriguing suggestion, ‘people should consider conserving their attention’.  This argument emerges from the view that ‘human mental space is consistently being hijacked’ by an intricate and sophisticated array of online global harvesters and merchants of attention, ala social media.

To be sure, there are challenges, especially when – if the ‘harvesters and merchants of our attention’ become inclined to ‘play fast and loose’ with facts, truths, and realities…relative to making particular-events, behaviors, and circumstances ‘fit’ their audiences’ attention span and information acquisition process.

As innocuous as this may initially appear to some…it has become the primary and sometimes convoluted strategies for targeting, eliciting, and ultimately acquiring the level of human attention purveyors and their sought after buyers of information and context are seeking.  Ultimately, products are being built – code is being written, to repeatedly cater to and harvest people’s attention span relative to online merchandising.

Put another way, the desired product of ‘attention harvesters and merchants’ is human attention translated to buying…which have become extraordinarily valuable ‘intangible’ commodities.   whomever-whatever acquires and holds people’s attention as long as it takes to translate to ‘buying’.  Sadly, perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s and other tech company leadership’s recent testimony before U.S. Senate and House Committees could be characterized through the lens of an ‘attention harvester and merchant’.

Whether it is intentional or unintentional, the commoditization and monetization of people’s online attention…and the infinite amounts of personal data specifics harvested therein, it should not be surprising this represents a, if not the, primary business model associated with social media company operation.  Is this not the over-arching rationales that sparked the U.S. Senate and House hearings, as-well-as the upcoming European Union hearings on social media personal data privacy, sure!

Arguably, a risk to being a harvester and merchant of human attention…is that, at some future point, people may be less influencable and/or their attention becomes directed elsewhere, perhaps to new types of media platforms, at which time people may begin turning the now, conventional messaging platforms out, in favor of whatever is effectively branded as being new, attractive, different, and provides more. Should (when) this occurs, of course, it may translate to a loss of value, revenue, and power for the conventional (social media) platforms which have not adapted, suggests Professor Wu.

And, to think some business leaders remain reluctant to engage their intangible assets…to them I say, consider what’s very much in evidence now, and for the foreseeable future, and how it can be exploited.

Michael D. Moberly May 3, 2018 St. Louis [email protected] ‘The Business Intangible Asset Blog’ since May 2006 where one’s attention span, intangible assets, and solutions converge. 

Readers are invited to explore other papers, books, and blog posts I have produced-published

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