What is The Attention Economy and How Did It Evolve?

What is The Attention Economy and How Did It Evolve?

The attention economy is a concept that recognizes human attention as a scarce commodity and suggests that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

It’s based on the idea that because human attention is limited, it is valuable, and thus there is competition among various businesses and entities to capture and hold that attention.

To understand this Attention Economy we are all currently part of, first we need to understand the 3 historical eras of wealth creation – the ‘waves’. Sometimes to go forward, you must first go backwards.

As you understand the 3 waves, your eyes will have a treasure opened unto you almost instantly.

Wave #1: The rise and fall of “Government/Royal Economy”. It was a time when Kings and Queens had the majority of power.

Wave #2: The Rise and Fall of the “Corporate, Capital Based Economy”. Corporations began to replace governments and kings in the 1800 and 1900’s as the dominant wealth creator in the world. People like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, The Vanderbilts, etc. gained the majority of the wealth through their corporations. Even before this era there always were entrepreneurs, but usually on a small scale. For the last 20,000 years, humans were farmers or had small village enterprises. Almost everything was family-run.

Wave #3: The Rise of the “Attention Economy” – social media & personal brands will dominate all. A new wave is upon us and the first individual trillionaire in history will be someone who has built a massive personal brand.

They will be bigger than just a founder of a big corporation. It’s already unfolding in front of us with Elon Musk. He’s in the early stages of building his personal brand, yet he’s already the wealthiest human on Earth. Take a look at one of the companies he bought in 2023. It was the social media giant Twitter, which he renamed X.

My guess is the new name comes form the derivative of the meaning of ‘X’. The ‘X’ comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Christós, “anointed, covered in oil”, which became Christ in English. This is why some people write the word Christmas as X-mas. Maybe that’s why Elon Musk likes to use the letter ‘X’ in the name of some of his companies, like SpaceX, and Twitter which became X.

The evolution of the attention economy can be traced through several stages:

  1. The Rise of Mass Media: The attention economy began to take shape with the advent of mass media such as newspapers, radio, and television. These platforms competed for viewers and listeners by creating compelling content. Advertisers recognized the value of attention and paid to have their commercials included in the most popular content.
  2. The Information Age: With the proliferation of personal computers and the internet in the late 20th century, the amount of information available exploded. The web provided a platform for anyone to publish content, leading to an even greater competition for attention. Search engines like Google became critical for navigating this vast sea of information.
  3. The Social Media Revolution: In the early 21st century, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram transformed the attention economy by creating new spaces for people to share and consume content. These platforms were designed to be addictive, using algorithms to curate personalized feeds that keep users engaged for as long as possible.
  4. The Mobile Era: The widespread adoption of smartphones made it possible for people to access content anywhere and at any time, leading to an even greater fight for attention. Notifications, endless scrolling, and other design choices were implemented to keep users on their devices.
  5. The Monetization of Attention: As platforms became more sophisticated in capturing attention, they also developed more advanced ways of monetizing it. This often involved collecting data on user behavior and using it to target advertisements more effectively.
  6. The Ethical Debate: As awareness of the attention economy has grown, so has concern over its impact on society and individuals. Critics argue that it can lead to addiction, reduced productivity, and a lack of privacy. This has led to calls for regulation and for companies to design products that are less exploitative of human attention.
  7. The Future of Attention: Emerging technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence promise to create new frontiers in the attention economy, potentially intensifying the competition for our attention even further.

Throughout its evolution, the attention economy has had a significant impact on how we consume information and interact with technology. It is now shaping the landscape of all businesses in the world.

Learn how to make money in the attention economy, click here.

To further prove how real the Attention Economy is, the following is commentary from the United Nations. I’ve provided a link to their pdf entitled: NEW ECONOMICS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: ATTENTION ECONOMY.

The concept of attention economy was first coined in the late 1960s by Herbert A. Simon, characterizing the problem of information overload as an economic one. However, the concept has become increasingly popular with the rise of the internet making content (supply) increasingly abundant and immediately available, and attention becoming the limiting factor in the consumption of information. While the supply of accessible information has continued to grow rapidly – digital data roughly doubles every two years – the demand for information is limited by the scarce attention we can give to it. Indeed, the total available attention is limited by the number of people with access to information and the fixed number of hours in a day and conflicting demands on our time and attention. Davenport and Beck (2001) first define the “economics of attention” as an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity and applies economic theory to solve various information management problems. We are increasingly living in an “attention economy” rather than an “information economy”. (You can download the pdf from the UN.org website by clicking here.)


If you haven’t spent time developing some social media profiles then now is a good time to get started. There are lots of tutorials available for free on YouTube, or you can find them by just doing a web search. I’ll be posting more about the Attention Economy and, if you’re interested, how you can use the three trends of the Attention Economy to turn the attention you generate from your social channels into money.