On attention, myware, and the precience of Headmap

I remain skeptical of whether we’re truly entering some sort of post-capitalist “attention economy.” But I’m a techie, not an economist, so I’ll leave that discussion to people better suited for it for the time being.

Regardless, attention is the new technological frontier. Reading through notes from ETech 2006, as well as other recent blogosphere activity re: glocalization, everyware, myware, etc. I was left with a feeling I’d heard rather a lot of it before. It’s pretty impressive how far ahead of their time Headmap were in when they published their manifesto in 1999. I’ve only read the Headmap Redux, available here. It had some early ideas about the stuff that’s shaping our current reality.

Here’s one particularly relevant bit:

As far as I can tell I’m a pattern following animal. There are whole years of my life that I cannot clearly remember. Sometimes in an effort to recover those years, and in the absence of a journal or diary to remind me, I grab a pile of bank statement from that year and study them to see roughly where I was and what I was doing. Usually mind numbing patterns emerge. Same Safeway, same day, every two weeks, roughly the same amount spent. Same ATM every friday night roughly the same amount. Every two weeks a meal at one of a small number of revisited restaurants. Every month rent cheque, haircut, some aberrant item like clothing or travel. If I continue long enough the pattern breaks up temporarily as I move to another city and then quickly settles down again. If I had my grocery receipts I’d find roughly the same food items recurring for months at a time. If I could trace my movements I’d find myself taking similar routes over and over again to get to the same set of destinations.

Show people their patterns in a way that might be directly useful and interesting to them, even suggest changes in behaviour and be able to measure and show direct changes in mood resulting.

Sounds a lot like what Attention Trust is up to.

They also warned us, in this blog post, of a potential dark side I’ve not yet seen discussed elsewhere:

on the darker side quantifying attention leads to being paid in attention units rather than hours, and more pay for longer periods of continuous attention ..and variable rates depending on where your attention is focused at any given moment

[call centres pretty much there already]

(Update: I remembered that this idea is also present in Snow Crash, the character who works for the federal government has her attention tracked constantly)


Seems like everyone is talking about Headmap. It’s a pretty cool project, compiling research on how “location aware devices” can be used for social change. There’s a lot of information on this site, but I have a hard time reading the tiny, light grey font and the lack of text formatting makes the material hard to scan. Still, they’re doing well to compile large amounts of theory regarding place, magick, and technology. They’ve built a prototype of what they’re talking about, but it’s still very rough. So far it’s basically a map with links to web pages that deal with the places on the map. I think Hiptop Nation is more interesting right now, and it isn’t even trying to be any sort of revolutionary psychogeography tool.


Update: The Headmap site is gone, but I’ve preserved the Headmap Manifesto here

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