We’re living in an attention economy that’s fundamentally broken — but there’s hope if we do 3 things

Ashlyn Gentry

  • Ashlyn Gentry is a managing director at Human Ventures Co.
  • In this op-ed, she says that society, democracy and people’s mental health is at risk due to our damaging "attention economy."
  • To address it, she says we need to find more business opportunities in fighting fake news and creating positive experiences — and teach kids early on to navigate this dangerous landscape.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In a piece published last month, I defined just what the attention economy is and isn’t — and laid out what’s at stake. In addition to the future of entertainment, media, marketing and journalism being uncertain, society, democracy and people’s mental health is at risk.

Yes, it’s that serious. The attention economy is as fierce a battleground as it gets. And underneath it all, we think it’s fundamentally broken.

The question is: What do we do about it?

1. Brands need to stop complacently funding bogus attention

This is hard for some of you to hear. But the never-ending supply of stories we read about brands burning money on completely fake, bot-filled websites, is your fault, dear CMO. You scream with righteous anger when your ads end up on bogus corners of the web, or alongside nasty content. But then you turn around and push your agency to buy more for cheaper, which you know means accepting millions of fraudulent views.  

How many brands right now are preaching about purpose-driven marketing? We’re sorry to be harsh about this, but for all the good your brand does for the planet and society, your media buying habits don’t match your rhetoric.

You’re doing this to yourselves. Sure, publishers and ad tech companies play a role. But you are ultimately responsible (it’s your money, after all), and it needs to stop.

2. We need to find more business opportunities in fighting fake news and creating positive experiences

Think about how valuable your startup would be right now if you could help tech companies keep unwanted videos off their platforms automatically. Or if you could promise to keep advertisers out of harm’s way. Or smack down streams of misinformation before they start spreading across social networks.

There’s loads of room for entrepreneurial thinking here.

We’re already seeing it. Consider how the video ad buying firm company OpenSlate is helping brands navigate YouTube. Or companies like the Indian startup Metafact and the VC-baked Civil who are using AI and blockchain to fight the spread of fake news on social media.

There’s room for so much more.

We also see an opportunity for startups or tech companies to build new social or digital entertainment products to promote positive engagement. Imagine a new social network that uses algorithms that spark real-life human connections instead of being fueled by casino-like addiction mechanics.

Already, Airtime is building live-viewing tools to connect real friends in real time. Social networks like Imgur and Pinterest created incentives to keep interactions positive — and keep out haters.

Brands like Lyft, Patagonia and Toms have shown that it’s possible to be profitable and ethical. Let’s see more.

3. We need research and education

Mobile and social platforms are rewiring our brains on the fly in ways we can’t anticipate.

They’re shaping our kids’ brains at a time when their development is deeply vulnerable.

For adults, these platforms are inhibiting and degrading attention when we need critical thinking and sustained focus the most. Worse, they’re degrading the human condition, preventing us from creating new and meaningful relationships.

We need to research the long-term effects of distraction media has on people, particularly kids. We need to teach kids early to navigate this dangerous landscape and prepare them with the healthy digital media literacy and hygiene skills they’ll need to be successful.

Like I said, this battle is that serious.

Ashlyn Gentry is a managing director at Human Ventures Co., a new company funding startups, and has a PhD focused on political attention.


SEE ALSO: The attention economy is breeding addiction, fraud, and hate — and this is what we need to do to save it

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