GOLDSTEIN: And where does technology come in?
GOLDHABER: Technology gives us television; technology gives us the Internet as a second step, a very big second step where all of a sudden our potential for seeking attention becomes vastly large. Our potential for seeking what I call illusory attention also becomes vastly large. And so if I have a question, the Internet pretends to give me an answer to my question. I read something that has the answer in it. So all the technology, well, not all the technology, but a large amount of the technology that we talked about in the context of the ETech Conference has to do with abilities to focus your attention, to get more attention from other people.
For example, your Vault application allows you to compare your DNA with somebody else’s in a sense. And then you get attention from them, and they are already attuned to you presumably because you have similar tastes and interests, so you’re focusing attention on somebody who is more easily capable of giving you attention. That’s sort of a metaphor for what you’re trying to do.
GOLDSTEIN: It’s not that I’m watching a video. It’s that I’m letting people watch me watch video. What technology has done now is to democratize surveillance.
GOLDHABER: Well, surveillance is…let me see, is surveillance attention? Yes, it is to some extent. When you’re looking at somebody, and you’re deciding whether that person looks as if their intention is to leave a bomb there, then you can say that I’m paying them some attention. I’m trying to understand their intentions. And you have to accord them some subjective capabilities. Otherwise you can’t do that because you have to try to figure out what they’re thinking.
GOLDSTEIN: The notion of surveillance, in general, is structured attention paying. I believe that innovations in Internet media are like handfuls of white powder dropped over the invisible outlines of consumer intention. It reminds me of one of those Abbott and Costello skits where they try and find the ghost. And the only way to find the ghost is to drop a big bucket of paint, and you can only see the outline and okay, there’s the ghost. You’ve done this with your writing; it’s sort of like you’re now putting on these attention glasses. We can now see attention as a material substance. What if attention were visible? So that when you paid attention, you emitted a blue light; and we could observe the world in the context of seeing who is paying attention to whom. We just don’t have those tools. But technology gets closer and closer…
GOLDHABER: We have had some tools for a while like Nielson Ratings or simply a large auditorium filled with people. That’s a very big clue as to who they’re paying attention to.
GOLDHABER: The Internet makes it less obvious what people are paying attention to, and you have to work at fine tuning, for example, the kind of thing that you’re doing and producing – this overall silhouette of someone’s attention. Some of that is misleading in the sense that let’s say some friend of mine develops some illness, and I look up that illness. That’s not one of my things I really pay attention to most of the time. I’m paying attention to my friend, but it looks like the illness. In other words, what comes across is not necessarily what is really going on.
GOLDSTEIN: How do you preserve context?
GOLDHABER: That’s a very tricky thing, and it strikes me that the tool that you have needs to be shaped by the user in a certain way. That is, if you want to use it in some way to connect to other people who are similar to you, what you have to do is first of all review where your time has gone and to some extent color it in some way of saying, “well red means this is what I’m most interested in, and this is what really grabs me. And this other stuff is quite secondary, so I’ll give it a different color or something like that.” In other words, you have to use it reflectively perhaps reflexively even. It has to be very fine tuned, so looking at Google is virtually meaningless, right? So looking at a movie theatre’s Web site is also pretty meaningless, because it doesn’t tell you which movie you’re necessarily focused on. So there are ways that one could color it in if one so chose.
GOLDSTEIN: So there’s a service called Crazy Egg that’s launching as a tool for web analytics. It creates heat maps to tracks mouse gestures on the screen. So, what you see is your Web site, and you see blocks of color for where most people’s attention is being focused.
GOLDHABER: Yeah, well that kind of thing. It could even trace eye movements ultimately. But, that would be indicative. People could paint it in themselves. They could say, if they’re interested in doing this, they would have no problem looking in detail at their mouse clicks and saying “this is highly satisfying to me.” This is what I really want, and this is what I’m paying attention to. Of course, people could lie also, but that would be interesting in some ways. In other words, just taking a raw record is not so revealing. It’s sort of like whatever that system was that determined that the TV was on a particular channel, but didn’t tell you that anyone was watching.
(thread 4 of conversation with between seth goldstein and michael goldhaber after oreilly's attention economy conference, in march of 2006 in oakland)