This Post Takes 13 Seconds to Read
In case you were wondering about that mysterious red smudge on the Declaration of Independence...
"Time is money" (coined in 1748 by unlikely womanizer Benjamin Franklin) is one of those American aphorisms we accept as gospel without ever actually believing.
Certainly if we did, we wouldn't spend 6 hours in front of Best Buy on Christmas morning waiting for 50 dollar-off DVD specials. Employers wouldn't pay their salaried workers to sit in traffic all morning. And "Minute Rice" would cost something like 600 bucks.
So let's cut to the chase: Benjamin Franklin is an idiot. It's not our time that's valuable. (Americans waste an average of 26.4 hours per day.) What's valuable is our active attention.
Being actively attentive, sometimes referred to as thinking, is incredibly valuable because it's arduous, it's unpleasant, and (generally speaking) we try to do it as little as possible.
So valuable and rare is our attention, that (as we've previously noted here on the Sounding Board) there's some reason to believe the world is moving to a predominantly "attention-based" economy. And that's decidedly good news for advertisers, entertainers, and anyone else who specializes in "life intrusion." (See, I can coin phrases too, Franklin, you three-puffy-roll buying pedophile.)
(Introspective sidebar: Why am I so hostile toward Benjamin Franklin this morning?)
Anyway, I'm sometimes nostalgic for the golden days of "life intrusion," when door to door encyclopedia salesmen would literally stick their feet inside your door hinge to prevent you from returning to your mildly racist radio dramas.
You can't really do that anymore (thanks a lot Nancy Pelosi and the crackdown on forced-entry homicides), so we've had to get creative.
Today's "life intruders" mostly use the Internet. And the tone has changed. We have to pretend to be respectful of your time these days. We have to give you options (like picking between two different ads to watch, or paying $2.99 for an ads-free experience).
And we have to be a little less deceptive (thanks a lot Nancy Pelosi and the crackdown on timeshare-based prostitution rings). No longer can we say things like "This'll only take five minutes," as we're furiously plugging quarters into the parking meter. In fact, Edward Nawotka of Publishing Perspectives wonders if we ought to be telling people (in advance) just how much attention we'll be asking for.
From his article:
[There's] the Delay App, which asks readers to indicated [sic] the amount of time they would like to read and, in turn, the app offers them selections that can be read during that period. It’s an intriguing premise, one that assumes all people read at the same pace. That said, it’s not entirely new. Several websites have experimented over the years with indicating at the top of an article how long it might take to read. Longreads, in particular, maintains the practice.
But Nawotka is skeptical, and he's quick to add:
I suspect it might put readers off. In my previous experience with the web sites indicating the amount of time it would take to read an article, I found myself clicking away if the article was of only marginal interest (which is about 90% of what I read online) and looked to be too long. Books — if they told you that, provided an average reading pace of a page every two minutes — would likely take you ten hours for a 300-page book, it might just be enough to put you off reading it.
I take Nawotka's point. But I'm concerned he's conflating two separate content types: the online article (which is presumably free) and the 300-page book (which is presumably paid for).
If he's right in this conflation, and we're truly willing to pay more currency for less content, that's quite a departure from the old economic model -- which paid Charles Dickens by the word. Instead of paying a premium for the creation of content we deem worthy of our valuable attention, we'd be paying that premium for the streamlining of said content, so as to take as little of our attention as possible.
Along these lines, the Observatory's Michael Erard offers his own take on the emerging economics of attention. And I'm anxious to delve deeper into his perspective, as well as my own thoughts on the wisdom of using "free" as an attention strategy.
However, being respectful of your valuable time (and in an effort to grab more page views), I'd better make this blog a two-parter...