Some years back, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London introduced congestion charging for road vehicles wanting to occupy Central London’s road network during working hours. This makes sense since the supply of Central London roads is inherently limited and the demand for central London roads keeps increasing. Economics 101 suggests that congestion charging merely reflects Central London’s overall scarcity value. And although there is some debate about how successful congestion charging has been, it has now been extended to the west of London. Viewed from the perspective of someone (ie, me) who spend on average a week a month in Central London and does not own a car, the congestion charge has been a godsend.
The experience got me thinking: Is the concept of congestion charging generalizable? Would it find any application, for example, in the information economy? Consider the following. I am experiencing a growing number of claims for my attention – from my wife, my creditors, my students, from pop-up ads on the screen of my laptop, etc – but as with London’s road network, my ability to supply the required volume and quality of attention remains strictly fixed by the density of connections in my brain (my friends tend to stress the density rather than the connections). To cope with this imbalance, it would make sense for me to establish a schedule of neural congestion charges for those who aspire to enter my neural network. The schedule would be based on two criteria: 1) How far into the network does the intruder want to penetrate? 2) At what time? Taking each in turn:
I am not the first one to suggest that in the attention economy, you will be paid to pay attention. But I may be the first to suggest that in the attention economy you can calibrate the process of attention-giving so as to maximize the value of your neural processing. Between 6pm and 9pm Paris Hilton trumps George Soros.
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