Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Attention is a Precious Commodity: Earn it and Spend it Wisely


There’s an oft-shared quote that I’d also love to share with you here, “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”  French mathematician, physicist, writer and philosopher Blaise Pascal essentially captured the essence of thoughtful and purposeful communication with a bold but confusing statement in 1657.

At first blush, his words almost seem counter-intuitive. I mean after all, how can spending more time writing a letter equate to its downsizing?

That’s the point.

Think about it this way, I would have posted a shorter, more retweetable Tweet if I had more time.

This makes no sense to a lot of people. But it makes sense to you and me.

That’s the elusive yet magical nature of this attention economy. And, it’s both a challenge and also an opportunity to compete in it and for it.

In a digital world, we, you and me, have created an incredible human network. We each part of it and we each model it. In many ways, Gutenberg’s press democratized information by allowing enterprising individuals and groups to produce tangible and shareable content at scale. That was 1439. Of course, digital has only made the platform for moveable type and the ability to create and publish content far more efficient. The ability to create and distribute information is now pervasive. It’s easy, maybe too easy.

I used to say that news no longer, it Tweets. Information shared on Twitter, when the network effect kicks in, spreads faster than the world has ever known. In some cases, even the most remote news can break around the world in minutes. This is the power and the awe-inspiring nature of the human network, the fastest, most efficient way for information to spread while making its way to those who are looking for or open to it.

This human network, those individuals connected by the relationships they form across social networks, online communities and mobile apps, complements the freedom and ubiquity of content creation with a global, high-speed, always-on peer-to-peer or human-to-human distribution network. That’s the allure and fascination of this social media.

Information finds its way to people through other people at implausible speeds. It’s a network effect I refer to as connecting social objects to audiences with audiences with audiences of their own. And what makes it so fascinating is that as information travels across networks, the common interests that form every relationship qualifies and routes any given topic to those who would or could find it interesting or relevant. This amazing efficiency will only advance with technology and practice.

For the people by the people. That’s what this is about.

No more sucking from the exhaust pipe of big media or corporate content engines. Now we are the press. And to be honest, this is both a blessing and a curse.

But with social media comes great responsibility.

Information is power as they say. In an odd twist of fate though, it is this ability to readily publish, share and remix information, that can contribute to a diminishing return on relationships. That’s not what this is about.

Sometimes we move too quickly.

What we find interesting and in turn share through our networks contributes the nature and state of our relationships. Just because we have the ability to share doesn’t mean we should do so without regard or intention.

These marvelous relationships in which we forge and invest blossom into living and breathing organisms that reach and touch people around the world. When you stop and think about it, it’s all pretty wonderful. What we share and create sparks engagement, communication and collaboration. And what’s truly inspiring about all of this is that those interactions and the value of the communities in which we invest are OURS to define and shape.

As my friend Steve Rosenbaum believes, by sharing what’s interesting to us must also find interest in those with whom we’re connected. This thoughtful sharing creates a curation nation where the relationships and the byproduct of our connections is not only valued by all who contribute to the community, over time it helps us grow as individuals.

We learn. We discover. We gain perspective. We garner new insights. In turn, what we share and how we share it contributes to the enlightenment and entertainment of those around us. We develop and progress as people and as a group simply by what we share and how we participate.

This brings me back to Blaise Pascal. Our communities are defined by the sum of what we create, curate and collaborate. By spending more time before doing so, taking into consideration the very people we wish to engage, we strengthen our personal relationships while also upgrading the global potency of the human network.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…this could be.

To create is divine.

To curate is human.

The preceding work is an alternate foreword I wrote for Steve Rosenbaum’s latest book, “Curate This,” which helps readers learn the ins and outs content curation. The final foreword that made it to print can be read here.

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14 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Attention is a Precious Commodity: Earn it and Spend it Wisely”

  1. rob herr says:

    I agree with your statement because as a marketer, it is a challenge to earn your prospective customer’s attention. Whether it be online or offline, you need to offer something interesting to get their attention.

    • Robin S says:

      how about offering something needed in an intire industry that no one else in the world can do? That works pretty good.

  2. Larry Levy says:

    As you know, we @appinions have spend an enormous amount of time and energy figuring out how to measure the attention someone gets based on what they says or write, across ALL networks (news, blogs, forums, discussion boards, social). The democracy of publishing now makes it mandatory for brands and individuals alike to figure out how to create/curate compelling content that makes them relevant in the conversation. It’s the only way they’ll even remotely feature in the new “self-service” buyers journey.

  3. Ann Greenberg says:

    Wonderfully said. Not too short, not too long. Gracias.

  4. We are living in an information economy where abundant supply of knowledge has created lack of attention. To sell in such an economy, one must know what attracts the most of the attention and that’s the only way to success. Thanks for sharing the valuable opinion, it really matters for those who pay attention!

  5. Cecilia van Wijk says:


    I find it interesting that you point out how we are the
    press. I hear this in my classes almost every day. It is wonderful that
    anyone who has access to social media has a voice that can reach many
    people. However, I think about how different our information would be if
    those who currently do not have access to social media gained it. Are
    we missing out on hearing from a significant population? Thanks for the
    thought provoking article.

    • briansolis says:

      Yes and no. I also worry about how “if we are press” than we should take more responsibility and accountability for what we share. We could be more thoughtful…

  6. Taylor- Freeman Student says:

    Very well written. I agree with you completely. The digital age has created a task for everyone (marketers and non-marketers alike) that often seems difficult: capturing attention. But as far as non-digital means, capturing attention has always been difficult. We must be thoughtful in what we share, and more importantly: thought provoking.

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