Seth: Let's discuss the relationship of mirror neurons to the attention discourse. The fact that monkeys copy each other is not so interesting, but the extrapolation of that to economic and socioeconomic discourses is pretty profound.
Goldhaber: You influence me to make it even more of a key element in the chapter that I’m writing on attention, if I ever get it finished.
S: Your chapter on attention in the book about attention?
G: Yeah, in the book on the attention economy.
S: Right, but there’s a chapter about attention?
G: Right, attention per se, so, I mean, it’s sort of there throughout the book, but felt I could try and distill it and focus on it…
S: Like the chapter about war in War and Peace.
G: Yes, something like that I suppose. But, you know the economy part is probably important too, because it’s about how people act in response to everything. So in a way maybe the attention chapter is the whole thing, but it doesn’t seem like that to me.
S: I’m reconciling the fact that you can never get enough attention, but there’s scarcity because somebody can just take all the attention.
G: Well, that guy Simon Cowell or whatever his name is on ”American Idol” takes a lot and is keeping on grabbing more and more. He’s starting a new program called “American Actor.”
S: And so is Berlusconi in Italy.
G: Yeah, well I do think that Berlusconi sort of owns it. He also partly, I mean I do think that fewer and fewer people are monopolizing more and more attention. Largely Osama bin Laden, George Bush, you know, all these people and their teams in a sense focus on their getting attention. So what does that mean? I do think that it leads to a lot of potential pathology in that the extra attention they get comes from somewhere. Linda Stone was mentioning that in effect when she was saying that if you’re having lunch with someone, and Ray Ozzie calls up, you start paying attention to Ray Ozzie instead. I mean, she didn’t put it in these terms, but in effect what she means is that there is a hierarchy of attention getting and we have better and better means of pulling it away.
S: Influence. Certain people are more influential, and therefore influence is already…
G: The more attention someone gets, the more attention they can get is what happens, and…
S: But that’s up against the fact that you can’t just create it.
G: Right, and so that means somebody loses and, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about that…
G: What terrorism is: is a very effective means to get attention even if you have to kill yourself doing it.
S: Terrorists capture the attention of the world through their spectacles.
G: Yes. And, you know, I think what people typically do – there’s an old psychological term “Acting Out”. That’s what you do when you don’t get enough attention.
S: Like kids do all the time – act out.
G: Yes, I mean, after all kids are born into the world capable of doing nothing more than getting attention. And they’re not terribly good at it. Obviously, they have certain tricks: they can smile, they can cry, they can do a few things. And, obviously, in some way, parents feel a biological compulsion to pay attention to the child, but…
S: You feel as a parent that you can never pay enough.
S: You can spoil a kid. And yet, they’re different. So somehow you can never pay enough attention; it doesn’t mean, however, that all actions you do while paying attention are equally good.
G: Right. The child doesn’t have meanings that it can associate with the ways it can get attention at first. And so the parent has to try, the parent lives in a world of meaning and tries to convey attention often in terms of meaning. The child cries. What does this cry mean? Does it mean – and you think of one of a very small selection of things as a primary sign of what it might mean.
S: It’s also some subset of looking for attention.
G: Right. But the fact of the matter is that it may not be any one of those things. We create the meanings; we impose the meanings that were to some degree on the child, the categories by which the child is capable of self-expression. And that becomes the world into which the child develops and develops the ability to get more specific attention. And it’s a very complicated process that goes on with the child. And that process depends upon the total culture in a way that, now that we live in an attention culturet’s very different, it seems to me, from what it was in an older culture where we had rules like: children should been seen and not heard, a woman’s place is in the home…