On the Attention Economy and Modern Friendships

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“At Netflix, we are competing for our customers’ time, so our competitors include Snapchat, Youtube, sleep, etc.”

Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO

A Video on the Attention Economy by Dan Caldwell (link to his website)

In the 21st century, the new resource is attention.

Attention is needed for everything from sleep to romance.

So, how does the attention economy influence modern friendships?

Part I – The Opportunity Cost of Attention

If you’ve ever taken a basic course in Economics, you would know that every decision carries a opportunity cost. If I buy one apple, I cannot buy one orange. It’s a fairly straight-forward concept.

Attention also carries a opportunity cost.

If I’m watching Netflix, I can’t go rockclimbing with my friends.

This is why modern people are lonelier than ever. We give our limited attention resources to outside forces such as Netflix, Youtube, Reddit, Tik Tok, Instagram, CNN, etc.

Can you imagine a world where we took control of our local attention economies?

  • People like Jimmy Donaldson (Mr. Beast) would have to give up Youtube. They would get no comments.
  • Companies like Buzzfeed would go bankrupt. They would get no views.
  • Loneliness would significantly decrease. People would treat their own friends like celebrities.

Now, I’m not saying that we should get rid of all outside forces that want our attention, but we need to curate where our attention goes. It seems beneficial that our attention resources go towards things like sleep, reading, exercise, socializing, etc.

Attention is our resource.

Part II – Who Gets Attention

If you have seen my article on lookism, then you would know that society has been conditioned to value certain traits.

This conditioning greatly influences who gets attention – even at the friend level.

Let’s say society defines cool as someone who:

  • Gets drunk a few times a week
  • Responds to texts fashionably late
  • Always keeps things casual

Then, if you are someone who:

  • Does not drink
  • Responds to texts within the day
  • Always puts in effort

It is likely that you will not get as much attention from the mainstream groups. Of course, there are many exceptions to this hasty generalization; When you get to the individual level, statistics can go out the window.

Part III – A Example of Attention in Friendship

In this real-life example, I sent a good friend a text on February 24, 2020.

As of March 20, 2020, I have yet to receive a text back.

Now, there could be a number of reasons as to what happened.

  1. He got “busy” and forgot.
  2. He did not have enough attention resources due to a truly busy life or other valid circumstances.
  3. His attention was being exploited from outside sources.
  4. He valued different traits (either due to personal preference, societal conditioning, or a combination of both).
  5. He decided to move on either consciously or unconsciously. This is actually very acceptable. People change. Personally, I do not go wild at parties anymore, which was something that we used to bond over. Additionally, we no longer live in the same place.

It should be noted that no one can have time for all their friends. Research shows that we can actually maintain 5 actual close friends (see the Dunbar number). Personally, I maximize 2-3. I’m sure there are people who I have not texted simply due to circumstances.

Yes, I could have followed up. However sometimes, you have to let people go on their own wavelengths.

However, it is slightly alarming that society has taken this transitory stance towards friendship. It reminds me of how people throw the word love around in conversation. In any case, we continue to make new friends as we go through life.

Part IV – A Note on Friendship

In conclusion, if we want modern friendship, we need to put our attention resources into our modern friendships.

Additionally, if you or someone you know thinks that friendship should be effortless, then a perspective change is necessary.

No fire exists without wood/fuel.

How would a friendship exist without effort or resources?

If you are one of the people who does not respond to texts or acts negligent in relationships, you are part of the global loneliness problem.

[Image of old friends by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay]

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