It’s the (Attention) Economy, Stupid

Sorab Ghaswalla
8 min readMar 23


Examining the effects of artificial intelligence on the Attention Economy

In the digital age that we live in, what’s that one precious “commodity” that everyone — from content creators to sales teams — is vying for? Time? Information? Context? The answer is — your attention.

While content is abundant reader/user attention is scarce. In fact, I believe the two are inversely proportionate to each other; the more the content, the less the attention span.

There was a time once when your attention was divided between a newspaper or two, some magazines, a few marketing paper flyers, and the radio. Today, while the concentration of awareness remains the same, attention is divided between the Internet, TV, smartphone, gaming consoles, newspapers, the radio, .…phew, I may have left out a few platforms. Not to talk of channels like emails, newsletters, video, social media, podcasts, websites….

Our collective human capacity to engage with the myriad of stimuli vying for our attention makes up what is known as the Attention Economy. It recognizes that, although the events and content seeking our attention may be vast, our capacity to focus on them is limited.

So as you may have realized, the war is not being fought over content, information, data, or people. The fight is for attention. Attention has become a valuable commodity that almost everyone — starting from your spouse to your boss, to businesses and media — is warring over.

According to American writer and researcher Matthew Crawford, “Attention is a resource — a person has only so much of it.” “ I want your time so that you may read this newsletter to the very end”, is what content creators such as me are always screaming about.

There is a famous quote from the movie “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come”. Well, they don’t anymore. At least where advertising and marketing is concerned. Even if you push ads down their throats, the fish ain’t biting anymore. The purported audience just does not care. The only time they pay attention is when their self-interest is served. So if at a moment in time, you are looking for a new smartphone, and you do get served up an ad for a phone, it’s only then you sit up and take note.

Unlike earlier times crafting the content has become just one part of the equation; strategically leveraging the right marketing channels and the right tech make up the other parts, with “serving it up at the right time” forming the fourth, very crucial aspect of digital marketing.

The concept of the “Attention Economy” has become increasingly relevant as we become more connected and more inundated with information than ever before. Since individual Attention is limited (after all there are only 24 hours in a day of which approx. 8 are spent sleeping), it hampers the consumption of “limitless” content.

It’s complicated but one quick explanation would be to treat all information overload as an economic problem. Information overload comes from attention issues, hence the term — Attention Economy. It also means treating attention as a commodity, a tangible asset rather than an intangible one.

But now, with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), things are about to change on this front, and the content that people will consume. AI will ensure not how much content you consume but what information comes before your eyes and brain.

How Is AI Increasingly Manipulating Our Attention?

Attention Economy

You may not know it yet but AI is being weaponized to prioritize your attention and re-shape the modern-day Attention Economy. Let me ask you this — What’s the one thing that AI has that humans don’t? It’s the speed of doing things. Simply put, computers work faster (super fast) than humans, and this basic principle is now married to AI to get your attention. Literally.

With advancements in machine learning and natural language processing, AI has the ability to process vast amounts of information at an unprecedented speed, making it an ideal tool for businesses looking to capture the attention of their target audience.

“Targeted Audience” Suddenly Has New Meaning

For years, we marketers broke our heads over creating marketing campaigns for a target audience. I’ll let you on a little secret. Before data analytics became commercial, targeted audience campaigns were touch and go, at best. Even after the advent of data analytics, it is still kinda weak. I can keep talking of the creation of personas and audience segmentation to make up a bucket of like-minded potential customers, but ask any experienced digital marketer by the office watercooler whether it is an exact science and his response will be a wry smile if not some well-thought profanity.

I will tell you why so. ’cause, despite advances in data analytics and computing technology (supercomputers and all that), the speed at which consumer data was reported, analyzed, and understood was, well, comparatively slow. Go to market (GTM) strategies took time to implement. If not weeks, then days. Now, no more.

Now, you have AI. Businesses are using AI algorithms to not only analyze consumer data faster and better but using the information gleaned to create targeted advertising and marketing campaigns in near real-time. For example, it’s no longer enough to show ads for running shoes from various channels to a customer searching for them online. The minute he buys it, the shoe ads MUST be followed up almost immediately with ads of compatible socks. Such a personalized approach in real-time is more likely to catch the user’s attention and result in a purchase.

How AI is impacting Content Creation In Attention Economy

AI is not only influencing marketing, but it’s also impacting the Attention Economy through faster, if not better, creation of content. With AI-powered tools, businesses can develop content at a faster rate than ever before. For example, news outlets can use AI to write basic news stories, which frees up journalists to focus on more in-depth and investigative reporting. Similarly, businesses can now use AI to generate social media posts or even entire marketing campaigns. This allows them to capture more attention from their target audience without spending as much time or resources.

AI Will Allow For True Customer Personalization

AI algorithms are increasingly being used to analyze our behavior, preferences, and interests. By doing so, they can accurately target us with ads and content that we are likely to find engaging. This personalized approach not only benefits advertisers and content creators but also enhances user experience by delivering relevant content.

AI has been shown to have a significant impact on how fast companies are reaching their customers or leads, and how quickly they are gaining insights into consumer behavior. By analyzing vast amounts of data, AI can help businesses develop more targeted marketing strategies and improve customer engagement.

Another way that AI is impacting the attention economy is through its ability to personalize content for individual users. By analyzing user data, AI can tailor content to a user’s interests and preferences, increasing the likelihood that they will engage with it. This has led to the rise of personalized news feeds and recommendation engines, which are becoming increasingly popular among users.

Additionally, AI-powered recommendation systems can suggest products or services based on a user’s browsing history and purchase behavior, increasing the likelihood of a sale.

Google’s Bard AI, for example, is expected to increase the performance of marketing campaigns 10 times.

How Our Attention is Being Better Monetized By AI

To reiterate. in today’s digital age, attention is THE ONLY valuable commodity. Businesses have started using AI to monetize it.

Here are some examples of how attention is being monetized by using content, marketing techniques, and tech (in case you didn’t know):

Advertising: The most common way attention is monetized is through advertising. By using AI to analyze user data, companies can create highly personalized ads that are more likely to capture a user’s attention and result in a sale. For example, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have for the longest time, used AI to track user activity and serve them ads based on their interests and behaviors. This has led to a shift away from traditional mass-market advertising towards more targeted and personalized approaches. Advertisers pay platforms like Google, Facebook, and Instagram to show their ads to users, and these platforms make money based on how much attention users give to those ads. The more clicks, likes, shares, and views an ad gets, the more money the platform makes.

Influencer Marketing: Influencer marketing is where businesses pay social media influencers to promote their products or services. These influencers have large followings and are considered experts in their field, so when they endorse a product, their followers pay attention. Businesses can make a lot of money from this kind of marketing because it often results in high conversion rates. Influencers are often paid to promote products or services, and their posts are designed to capture and hold the attention of their followers.

Content Marketing: Content marketing is a strategy where businesses create valuable content that attracts and engages an audience. The goal is to capture the audience’s attention and keep them coming back for more. Businesses can monetize this attention by placing ads or affiliate links within the content or by offering premium content or products for sale.

Gamification: Gamification is the use of game elements in non-game contexts, such as marketing or education. Games are designed to be attention-grabbing and engaging, so businesses can use gamification to capture and monetize attention. For example, a business might create a mobile game that promotes its product or service, or it might offer rewards for completing certain tasks or challenges. Gamification as a marketing tool, is on the rise, let me tell you.

Subscription Models: Subscription models are becoming more popular as businesses try to monetize attention over the long term. With a subscription model, businesses offer a service or product that users pay for on a recurring basis. The goal is to keep users engaged and interested in the product or service, so they keep paying for it month after month. By offering exclusive content or features, these companies are able to capture and retain user attention, while also generating revenue. Examples of this include streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, which use AI to recommend content to users based on their viewing or listening history.

These are just a few examples of how attention is being monetized in today’s digital age. As AI becomes more advanced, it’s likely that we’ll see even more creative ways to monetize attention in the future.

Of course, the intersection of the Attention Economy and AI is not without its challenges. One concern is the potential for AI to be used to create deepfake content.

The Attention Economy is not immune to the potential pitfalls of Artificial Intelligence. AI algorithms can only be as impartial as the training data. Consequently, if the data is prejudiced, the AI will be as well, and this could further propagate discrimination against certain demographics and exacerbate existing disparities.

There are many such challenges and associated risks with the use of AI, but that is the subject of a newsletter some other day.

Like what you just read? This is part of my rather irregular newsletter on Substack — All About Content. Do subscribe.



Sorab Ghaswalla

Digital nomad,editor of 5 Sites, entrepreneur,Web consultant,marketing bro, & everything in between. Not to forget the past: 30+ years of old-world journalism.