The impact of Attention Economy and Mobile Technology — Introduction to Attention Economy

Introduction to Attention Economy

Economics is the study of how scarce resources are allocated such food, housing and money. ‘Scarcity’ is something inherently quantifiable and hence tangible but unlike the examples provided, ‘attention’ cannot be quantified and is not something tangible seeing as it is a mental state of awareness and being. This nowadays is seen as a valuable commodity as we are in the ‘age of the attention economy’ (Mintzer, 2020). The American Psychological Association (APA) defines attention as “a state in which cognitive resources are focused on certain aspects of the environment rather than on others.” (APA, 2020). Attention comes in various forms such as: help, obedience, love and recognition for instance. Since as aforementioned, ‘attention’ is unquantifiable, it is therefore tied to time to provide value seeing as capturing one’s attention means that the person is actively ignoring something else.

The term “attention economy” was coined by psychologist and economist Herbert A. Simon, who stated that attention is a bottleneck to human thought which limits both what we can perceive and do in stimulating environments. He also suggested that there is no such thing as multitasking due to. Theoretical physicist Micheal Goldhaber (1997) warned that there was a shift in the international economy from being material-based to one which is attention-based due to the multitude of free online services. Goldhaber also rejects the term ‘information economy’ and states that attention is scarce rather than information.

Attention can be likened to a consumable such as currency or money. It is something every single one of us necessarily requires to function and survive in capitalist and consumerist societies. Attention is something that, to a certain degree, we also all need to survive. This can be seen as a survival instinct or coping mechanism. It is also an aid to spread a message or demand, for example protests and petitions. Although, a more prominent example would be advertising and view time on online videos in terms of value for attention. Social Media is something which has made attention all that more valuable. The current era has seen the creation and rise of social media platforms which have altered our attention spans and occupancies. At the current moment in time, most people have the tools at their disposable to captivate and grab the attention of millions of people in one way or another, further driving the ‘attention economy’. Social Media also manages to keep us on the same website viewing content longer than we might have necessarily wanted or intended, seeing as one thing naturally leads to another and there is a timeline which can be followed. This is in sharp contrast to just searching for information, where you have a very specific goal in mind. However, when we focus our attention glued to our phones, we miss out on other opportunities.

Currently it’s very difficult or impossible to determine the impact which attention-grabbing sites have on the economy and society. Businesses are adapting their business models to make full use of this attention economy. Youtube Music for instance provides the option to pay for a membership to forego the advertisements played periodically between tracks and to also be able to keep playback going with the phone screen switched off and even while one is outside of the app, otherwise one ‘pays’ with their attention to put up with the advertisements and stay within the app.


Mintzer, A. (2020, March 31). Paying Attention: The Attention. Berkeley Economic Preview. Economy

American Psychology Association. (2020, January 12). (

Simon, H. A. (1994). The bottleneck of attention: Connecting thought with motivation. In W. D. Spaulding (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation, Vol. 41. Integrative views of motivation, cognition, and emotion (p. 1–21). University of Nebraska Press.

Goldhaber, M. H. (1997). The attention economy and the net. FirstMonday.

This blog is a project for Study Unit DGA3008, University of Malta.