The Fluid Nature of Big Data: Attention Economy in Brief

by Todd J. Fisher, Friday, April 29, 2022

Understanding big data in today’s world is vastly different than it was a decade ago.  What was “big” five years ago is tiny by today’s data volume, velocity, and variability standards. I mentioned at the end of my brief discussion last week that my recent experience of interrupted (i.e., stolen) attention that wreaked havoc on my sense of time, focus, and productivity served one important purpose.  I wanted to dive deeper into understanding our data-rich and noisy digital universe through the filter of the “Attention Economy.”

The Impact of Big Data on the Attention Economy

Information is, in essence, the output created by processes that refine raw data that is generated in a seemingly infinite loop of digital processes that are accelerating exponentially. Our capacity to understand, much less consume, this growing mountain of information is limited not only in magnitude but magnitude over time.  While many talk of the Information Economy and data as currency, unlike currency that can be saved today to be used tomorrow, our attention is inextricably tied to how it is allocated at each moment in time. What we pay attention to from moment to moment cannot be returned for a refund. Either consciously or subconsciously, either by preference or necessity, each moment the unit of attention that is allocated, along with its specific moment in time, are irretrievable – spent, gone. It is hard to think of a more perfect example of the core function of Economics as a discipline – the study of how consumers allocate limited resources to fulfill unlimited wants and needs. And so we land here today to start on a multi-week journey to investigate the Attention Economy across a broad array of disciplines so that we might come to better understand big data – the exhaust and fuel of the digital universe.


The wide-ranging disciplines to consider as we look under the Attention Economy hood, so to speak, is not for the light-hearted.  From data creation, processing, and analytics to neuroscience, psychology, economics, health, wellness, and existential philosophy, the winding path through the land of the Attention Economy is complex and very much worth contemplating if we are to understand how best to design digital technology solutions today that will help serve us tomorrow.

You may recognize the name Tristan Harris from the documentary Social Dilemma. His article, Big Tech’s Attention Economy can be reformed. Here’s how., takes a look at the challenges presented by the Attention Economy as it exists today.

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