I always loved you
You always had a lot of style
I'd hate to see you on the pile Of ‘nearly-made-it' s
You've got the essence, dear
If I could have a second skin
I'd probably dress up in you
Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit
Welcome to the readerverse. Just as pages and sites have their community in Ted Nelson's concept of the docuverse, so users and visitors have theirs in the readerverse. It is a place where responses are generated as the primary activity. This occurs when we are reading, browsing, searching, scanning, tuning into, subscribing and, generally, using the Internet passively, automatically. The readerverse shadows the more explicit actions of writing, commenting, rating, taging and coding.
Via my various widget logs, I have been trying to illuminate my own readerverse. I write things and then listen for the barely audible click steps that you make when you visit; the slight pinging sound you make when your reader checks my RSS feed. With some of the emerging blog statistics and Attention tracking services that are emerging, the web is increasingly rendering as visible what we have come to think of as invisible.
One way of thinking about this in the real-world would be imagine what it would be like if your gaze left a mark? What if when you looked at somebody, instead of that being your private experience, that the person immediately felt that she was being watched by you? How would that change the way we behave? We feel free to watch certain things, listen to certain conversations, tune in to certain channels, without worrying about these Attention choices being exposed to others.
This is a fundamental media right: the preference we enjoy in knowing that our media choices (ie our decisions about what we choose to pay Attention to) are not only under our control but are private to us. Bishop Berkeley asked whether the tree really falls if nobody is there to observe it. This applies to the physics of Attention. If my gaze is imperceptible to those I am paying Attention to, then I remain the sole source of information on my media consumption habits. However, if my gaze has material properties that impact others, then there are by definition other sources of authority on my Attention data.
Almost seventy years ago, Alan Turing, the brilliant British computer scientist and war-time cryptographer, suggested that:
The behaviour of the computer at any moment is determined by the symbols which he is observing, and his "state of mind" at that moment. Turing, On Computable Numbers, 1938
Now isn't that interesting? A conception of computing, from 1938 no less, in which the computer's behavior is driven by the Attention it is paying. Putting this in the context of Goldhaber's theory of the physics of Attention will lead us to important laws on how influence is created:
There is only so much attention (available from other humans), and many or most of us want more than we have.
In order to get attention one needs to express or do something — let us say, perform in some way. (This can be putting forth information, but that is not particularly what, e.g., a trapeze artist does.)
The more attention we get in comparison with the attention we pay in putting together our total performance, the greater our attention productivity.
The more attention we have, period, the more influential we are.
The more attention you get now, or have gotten in the past, the more attention you can get in the future. (Attention wealth is stored in the minds of the attention payers.)
Having others’ attention means you can rely on some attentiveness from them as well. Attentiveness is a willingness to satisfy your desires whatever they may be — as long as these desires do not go too much against what the attention payers (audients) would otherwise want.
Though all this has always been true, new attention technologies, and particularly the Internet, make all this work much more directly. They make it easy for more of us to seek attention, and if and when we get it, to have other desires satisfied as well.