Wednesday 21 September 2011

The distraction economy


Before the shiny happy days of the internet, life was quite hard – we just hadn't realized it then. When you had a strange pain in your abdomen at 10 in the night, there were very few ways for you to learn more about it. Today, all you need to do is google it and surf in febrile uncertainty as one page leads to another and it looks like your worst fears are coming true, very rapidly. What you perhaps take for granted at each page that you visit, is a tiny innocuous looking piece of text. This text is a tentacle from google's dark underbelly. Without it, google would not have been able to find you the page in the first place. No. I am not talking about some analytics tracking code. I refer to the annoying advertisements that appear to know what I want, even before I do.

It takes effort to place them on the right pages at the right time. But those ads just sitting there do not do anything. You are required to click on them. And when you do, the economy is fueled that little bit. But there are billions like you. And thus come google's billions.

Just clicking on ads wouldn't obviously provide for a sustainable business model. One would need to pay someone something somewhere so the wheels can keep turning. So, millions of people click on links and enter into contracts with the companies that pay google to distract you with said links while you waste your time searching for something you don't really need.

What google does then, is harvest distraction. Logically, since it's survival depends on maintaining a dissipated audience, it will support activities that promote distraction. Limited attention spans are much in demand. Now you know why facebook and twitter are all the rage. They make distraction look purposeful. And they too shall create micro-distractions to distract you from the main distraction – for they too need to survive.

This being the situation, the current hope is that amidst all this noise there might be wisdom. Wisdom that can be congealed – strangely enough, using artificial intelligence. As we humans spew out whatever comes to our progressively weakening minds, there is a rush to create machines which will help us make sense of the coming madness.

Note: I wrote this... in one sitting... in under 30 minutes... without being distracted by the internet!

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