We're probably all familiar with the idea of an attention economy spawned by the scarcity of consumers' attention. We don't have what it takes to watch the TV commercials, read every article in print publications, or open each piece of junk mail. We're maxed out on getting bombarded with too much information. At the recent Educause conference, danah boyd revisited this world of limited attention and changing dynamics.
This scarcity creates a problems for broadcasters, megaphone-mouths and every kind of pipeline direct to consumers. Content delivery no longer has free access to consumers' eyes and ears. We've been able to change the station since radios were invented, fast forward and pause when tape players came along and mute the sound once remote controls got sophisticated. We've unbundled recordings and print publications to access the little bit that interests us online. We've been in control of what we take in through our senses for many decades now.
Meanwhile, colleges continue to expect students to give the instructors, TA's and homework assignments their undivided attention. The educational offering from higher ed gets positioned as scarce and easily missed. Students get threatened with bad grades, falling behind or flunking out if they fail to pay full attention. Anything that competes for the students' attention gets regarded as an unwelcome distraction, interference or interruption. Colleges continue educating as if students have no experience with remote controls, pause and mute buttons.
An increasing number of students are continually immersed in social networking through their handhelds and laptops. They are following lots of interpersonal connections, paying close attention to some and most importantly, getting paid personal attention by many. They are experiencing the opposite of this pervasive scarcity of attention: they are wealthy in a world that pays them an abundance of personal attention.
In their world of abundance, their college's demand for undivided attention is a major interruption, putdown and disregard of their experience. It's a shocking contrast to their online experience. It seems like an extortion attempt to expect that full attention be paid by the students when no viable personal attention is paid to the students. It's not a fair deal or an enticing offer. It sucks to stop focusing on receiving tons of personal attention. This kind of imposition occurs inside systems of abuse, domination or incarceration. The underlings get silenced and then told what to think, say and do. Payments only get made to appease tyrants or buy favors from their guards. There's no fair deals, listening or empathy for the exploited when power gets extremely imbalanced.
Of course, college educators cannot tell their students to stop paying attention, to divide their attention or to make receiving personal attention their top priority. Dictators cannot consciously facilitate the overthrow of their regime or the invasion of their palace. They can only invite the revolution by persisting with their clueless demands and insensitive controls.
We can relocate college experiences into the world of abundant personal attention. This will realize my ambition to make college extremely affordable and accessible to the disadvantaged.
Note: This post addresses issue: 2. Changing the economics of paying attention
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.