Politics dictionary

attention economy

[ uh-ten-shuhn ih-kon-uh-mee ]

What is the attention economy?

The term attention economy refers to the range of economic activities based on people’s attention being treated as a scarce and highly desirable resource to be captured and maintained.

In attention economy, attention primarily refers to user engagement with digital products, which equates to revenue and influence for those who capture and maintain it.

The term is typically used in reference to online contexts and the fact that many tech companies’ revenue is primarily based on advertising and data gathering, both of which require sustained user engagement.

For this reason, websites, apps, and platforms are designed using psychological principles to constantly promote and reinforce this engagement. Some of the most visible methods are interfaces and notifications that prompt or entice users to create and consume content and interact with other users.

Those who use the term are often critical of the attention economy and its effects on individuals and society. The idea of the attention economy is related to and often overlaps with surveillance capitalism, in which personal data is a central commodity.

Related words

surveillance capitalism, behavioral economics, grandfluencer

Where does attention economy come from?

group of young adults on couch with phones in hand

The term attention economy was coined by political scientist Herbert A. Simon, who began using it by at least the early 1970s. Simon suggested that people’s attention was a limited, valuable resource that could potentially be used for economic gain.

In 1997, writer and researcher Michael Goldhabar expanded on the idea of the attention economy, predicting that the internet would incentivize and prioritize the capturing of users’ attention, and that such practices would become the foundation of online economics.

Examples of attention economy

Whilst researching the attention economy, I couldn't help but chuckle at the irony of my over reliance on YouTube videos rather than academic journals.
@thato_magasa, September 8, 2019
The ferocity of the attention economy has led to a decline in people’s ability to maintain strong relationships and engage in deep thought. Moreover, distraction and multitasking hurts both personal and company productivity.
Ira Bedzow, Forbes, September 2022

Who uses attention economy?

The term attention economy is most often used by those who are critical of it and concerned about its effects on individuals and society.

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Note

This is not meant to be a formal definition of attention economy like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of attention economy that will help our users expand their word mastery.