The attention economy: potato salad and the best books you’ve never read

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What a week. At least for Zack Danger Brown, whose potato salad making project on crowfunding platform Kickstarter raised $40 000 and counting. In March, Noburu Bitoy asked for $8 to buy a burrito and received $1,050. Apparently, these projects are “creative” which earns them a place on Kickstarter. On the other hand, a woman’s project to raise $7000 to pay for coding school tuition does not (she succeeded at another platform): http://www.salon.com/2014/07/07/potato_salad_kickstarter_raises_over_21000_and_counting/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Do you feel this is “the Woodstock of our generation” or that “there’s something seriously wrong with that” (Haraszti)? Many of the project’s backers gave money because the idea was “simple” and “pointless fun”. To the criticism they should have instead donated to important and charity projects, Ludington responded that fun should not take a back seat to more important things:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/11/potato-salad-kickstarter_n_5573874.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000018

Whatever you feel, this event illustrates our “attention economy” (Davenport and Beck, 2002) in which “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it” (Simon 1971). The inherent quality of your idea or project is not as important as the attention it gets. Even bad publicity is good for you as long as the attention benefit outweighs the negative sentiment effect: (http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~sorensen/papers/negative_publicity_2010.pdf)

Compare the potato salad and the ‘YO’ application ($1M in funding) with thousands of excellent books you have never heard of and/or probably will never read. One example is “Why don’t we learn from history” (Hart 2012), which gets 4.8 stars on Amazon but only 4 reviews. And of course there is http://www.amazon.com/Its-Not-Size-Data-How/dp/0814433952 , which gets 5 stars but only has 2 reviews. So my question to you this week: how do we make important things fun and simple?

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