The War for Human Attention

@midjourneybot: /imagine: corporations, spouses, kids, pets, religions and bosses fighting for the attention of a super busy person

As of June 2023, the world’s 10 most valuable corporations are:

  1. Apple ($2.7T)

  2. Microsoft ($2.3 T)

  3. Saudi Aramco ($2 T)

  4. Alphabet ($1.5 T)

  5. Amazon ($1.1 T)

  6. Nvidia ($746 B)

  7. Berkshire Hathaway ($718 B)

  8. Meta ($621 B)

  9. Tesla ($550 B)

  10. Visa ($487 B)

What do they have in common?

How many of these corporations generate their revenues from buying, selling, or arbitraging Human Attention?

  • Apple (#1) is the primary mobile device for 1.2 billion people worldwide. You might be staring at an Apple device right now. 📱

  • Microsoft (#2) has Xbox, Bing, and Office. Just imagine how many humans work in Microsoft Office every day. Just imagine how many humans play on Xbox every day. 🎮

  • Alphabet (#4) has Google, YouTube, and Gmail. How many humans use the Google search bar every minute? Even if you don’t watch YouTube, you still probably see hours of YouTube clips embedded in webpages all over the Internet. 📺

  • Amazon (#5) sold $40 billion dollars of advertising in the Amazon search bar last year. That’s more money than they made on Amazon Prime and Amazon Web Services, which serves our Netflix shows. 🔍

Are you seeing the Wall Street trend here?
  • Nvidia (#6) makes the best graphics chips for video games and making movies. Nvidia also makes the best chips for chatbots and generative-ai. 👾

  • Meta (#8) is the “General Motors of social media”. Actually based on their revenue, Meta is really just Instagram and the hope that everyone on Earth will be retired in 5 years spending their whole day in Oculus virtual reality. They might be right. 🥽

  • Tesla (#9) is developing full self-driving cars so we don’t have to pay attention when we ride in them. 🚗

According to Wall Street, Human Attention is the world’s most valuable commodity.

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If quantum mechanics means the universe only “renders reality” wherever there’s an observer, then Human Attention might be the most valuable commodity in the universe. 😳

Attention Economics

The War for Human Attention can also be thought of as Attention Economics.

That’s because all economics are really just “nerfed” warfare. Or maybe warfare is “hyper-economics”. For example, the reason Russia bombed Ukraine’s power stations is because Vladimir Putin wants to invest capital from the Russian economy (bombs) to eliminate the means of production within the Ukrainian economy (power stations).

That's hyper-economics.

When a Russian bomb destroys a Ukrainian maternity hospital (which is an absolutely disgusting decision), rebuilding that hospital will require the Human Attention of doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, crane operators, bankers, lawyers, government inspectors, construction workers, and truck drivers. There are huge opportunity costs in war. All those people can’t invest their Human Attention into building new hospitals when they are busy rebuilding the hospitals that just exploded. And those people can’t even rebuild the hospitals that just exploded when they are busy chopping wood to stay alive during the power outages all winter.

That’s hyper-economics.

One of the biggest reasons America is so rich is because our geography means we haven’t had to rebuild war-torn dams, bridges, and hospitals…since before the invention of electricity. Think about that. America’s two biggest neighbors are the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. American prosperity is the compound interest from generations and generations of accumulated labor. Using labor to accumulate capital is an important theme throughout this chapter, so here’s an important economics formula to remember:

All Capital = Prior Labor

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@children: Whenever you play the boardgame “Risk”, don’t ever try to take over Asia until you control North America and Europe. Asia just has too many borders to defend. 🤔


@parents: Can we all agree to teach our kids to build capital for others instead of destroying the capital of others?

Capitalism isn’t good or bad, capitalism makes you more of who you already are. In contrast to Russia and Voldemort Poutine, countless people in history have used their human attention to build hospitals, grow our food, create technology companies, finance apartment buildings, and manage day-care schools. All of those people build different forms of capital for other people.

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Before we get into Attention Economics, let’s start with some definitions.

@ChatGPT: how do you define human attention?

ChatGPT: Human attention can be defined as the cognitive process by which individuals selectively concentrate their awareness and mental resources on specific stimuli, tasks, or information. It involves the ability to maintain focus, ignore distractions, and allocate cognitive resources effectively. Human attention is crucial for various cognitive functions, including perception, learning, memory, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Human attention is a finite resource for each person, just like the processing power of a digital computer. Computers meticulously track their resource usage for every process, so it's easy to see what computers are “artificially thinking” about. On Unix and Mac machines, you can run the “top” command to see each process’s total CPU time (TIME) and percentage of the CPU it is currently consuming (%CPU).

It’s much more difficult to know the “top” for a human. The human brain has so many processes running that it hides most of the processing deep down in our subconscious. So let’s define Human Attention as the “total conscious computing power” of a human brain. It can be measured in “seconds of time” and “% usage”, just like a computer. For example, most traffic accidents are caused by drivers using less than 100% of their total attention.

Attention Economics is all about improving the value of our time—also known as our Human Capital. Human capital is what we sell to our employers by the hour. The value of our human capital is determined by what our employers trust us to do for them each day during the time they purchased. If an employer trusts us to keep a warehouse clean, that’s worth about $10-15 per hour. If an employer trusts us to manage a $500M investment portfolio, that’s worth more like $250-500 per hour.

Just like financial capital, we can use our human attention to build our human capital or to destroy it. When we invest our seconds of attention to increase the value of our time, that’s called Education. Education includes learning, reading, practicing, certifications, training, work experience, apprenticeships, discipleships, and all forms of failure.

We can also use our seconds of attention to destroy our human capital with drugs or porn. They are way more fun than education. How much can any employer trust a worker who uses heroin on the job? See the effect on human capital? If you don’t think porn negatively impacts your human capital, ask your girlfriend if she thinks your porn makes you a better listener?

The War for Human Attention has been raging for way longer than the advertising engines on Google, Instagram, and Amazon Search. In the book, “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads”, author Tim Wu cleverly points out that when radio and television were first introduced, many of the marketing geniuses that revolutionized these mediums were the sons of preachers. The first “Mad Men” on Madison Avenue grew up in churches. Monetizing human attention may have been new to the world economy in 1930, but it has been stock-and-trade in religions for millennia.

Religions have been turning the weekly sacrifice of our attention into:

  • moral improvement of their supporters

  • revenues for the church

  • acts of service to improve the world.

If you’re a religious person, what else would God and the Devil be competing for? They are battling for seconds of our attention. If humans are self-sentient artificial intelligence, then we are the most valuable “crop” on this planet. 🌾

Today, religions aren’t the only ones fighting for our attention. Our pets, our kids, our bosses, and our spouses are all competing for our attention. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s spend billions of pre-tax dollars buying time in our life, everywhere we look. Disney and Netflix aren’t just competing against each other for “time on our neural networks”, they are competing against Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Nintendo, PlayStation, Hollywood, and everyone else we’ve already mentioned in the zero-sum game for our human attention.


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