The New Online Economy: Rise of the Attention Whore

In recent years the phrase “attention economy” has become increasingly popular amongst academics, technologists and generally people with too much time on their hands. The basic idea is that within the age of infinite online resources, the only remaining scarcity (and as such the only item with any true economic value) is that of our own limited attention span.

While many bloggers have expounded the potential virtues of an economy built purely upon staring at shiny objects; I am (as usual) considerably more pessimistic.

As one recent example, consider talking broom handle and professional lemon-sucker Katie Hopkins. Originally a contestant on the ‘business’ based ‘talent’ show “The Apprentice”, Katie has made a name for herself by spouting controversial and supposedly spontaneous opinions on camera for money.

A few weeks ago Katie graced TV talk show and gin-addled mums’ favourite “This Morning” to share her enlightened opinion on children’s names. As usual she said a whole load of controversial stuff and pre-destined outrage predictably ensued.

Unfortunately for us, within the confines of the attention economy, outrage is one of the strongest currencies available. In fact, it’s what people like Katie Hopkins thrive on.

Over the last decade the internet’s fickle attention economy has resulted in a whole new species of celebrity: the attention whore. Now before going any further, I’d just like to be clear that I do not use the word “whore” in any derogatory sexual sense, rather I simply cannot conceive a better terminology for this type of individual. Whether it’s Peter Hitchens, Samantha Brick or even Katie Hopkins, these people have learnt to manipulate the attention economy at its lowest and most repulsive form.

Realising that attention (good or bad) is worth money online; these individuals choose to exchange their own dignity for a multitude of abusive tweets and ultimately a few coins in their pockets. (You can begin to see where the whore metaphor comes from).

What’s even worse about this situation is that with every angry or negative comment we post, we’re supporting them in their quest! Katie Hopkins only survives as a result of her controversial reputation. Without our tweets, memes – and yes – this blog post, that reputation is lost.

The same goes for the likes of Samantha Brick. Following her first “look at how beautiful my face is” article, The Daily Mail couldn’t wait for her to squeeze out another controversial turd all over the editor’s desk. Controversy = attention = clicks = increased advertising revenue. The same system underpins the quasi-racist ramblings of Jeremy Clarkson and Peter Hitchens.

The attention economy turns everything on its head. It encourages emotive reactions, rewards stupidity, and punishes those who engage in any thoughtful deliberation.

Still, there is one good thing I will say about this economy – it is entirely under our own personal control. If you truly want to punish the Katie Hopkins of this world, simply don’t acknowledge them. Don’t blog about them, don’t tweet about them, don’t even discuss their controversial escapades with friends. If we can succeed in this collective silence we might just manage to suck these individuals into an attention black hole, never to be heard from again.

For now though, the more we reward these people with click-throughs and tweets the stronger they get. Katie Hopkins doesn’t care what you’re tweeting, as long as it’s something to do with her. She’s like a painful ulcer, and poking your tongue at her will only make things worse.

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