Attention Crash, Filter Bubbles and JD Wetherspoons

18 April 2018

On the recommendation of a mate of mine, I am currently reading Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble” book, an excellent insight into the way social media and internet based news are affecting our day to day lives. It’s not all positive.

The basic premise is really simple. If all of the information we consume is beautifully personalised to our wants, and not our needs, then we are only ever informed about things that we want to see. Our filter on the world therefore is restricted to what the organisations serving up our information think we want to see, specifically excluding anything that expands our mind or viewpoint. Eventually we will all potentially end up within a bubble, designed specifically for us, which actively excludes the broader world, to the detriment of society.

Although it sounds like a bit of a dull topic, it is actually really interesting. Back in 2008, Steve Rubel predicted a phenomena known as the Attention Crash. With the expansion of information dissemination through the internet and online communications, and an ever expanding set of tools to serve the information, the bottleneck will become us. People will struggle to process the infinite amount of information being served up to them, and as a result will start to switch off channels to restrict the flow and make it more comfortable.

And the reason why I’m reading all this now. I’m suffering Attention Crash. With all the various inputs to my life, I’m struggling. I’ve started to bin apps from my phone, unsubscribe from email distribution lists, switch off news feeds on LinkedIn. My miniscule brain cannot process all the “stuff” that is being served up. Facebook, Google, BBC, LinkedIn, Twitter, Email, SMS, WhatsApp, Skype, Skype4Business, Teams, Sharepoint, OneDrive, PowerBI, Specialist news feeds, Vendor updates, Client updates, its all utterly mental. But with no trust in the filtration mechanisms, it’s a risk. If I limit my inputs to a subset of the above, my filter on the world becomes entirely dependent on a what those information sources are incentivised to show me.

So what’s the answer? I’m not at this bit of the book yet, but I think subscription based openly independent services are where we are heading. “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product” makes for a dangerous adage. I’m happy to pay for a product that gives me information I genuinely want to see, and anything I need to see to maintain a world view, providing I have complete control over the rules applied to that filter. The value that I would pay for is not in the filtration itself, but in the ease of control and accuracy of the filtration method as defined by me.

Facebook is a great example. I would pay a subscription for a service that showed me only updates from my friends, based on the most recent, and filtering out all the adverts and meme’s. I would delight in never being offered a survey or tailored product pitch again, it’s a tool for me to stay in touch with my genuine friends. I would pay a subscription to LinkedIn that showed me only relevant information associated with my professional life as generated by the people I know, not regurgitated marketing blurb from my the contacts of my contacts, or things that people I know may have commented on. I would pay a fortune to avoid the motivational speakers and the marketing agencies that keep telling me that social media is the future!

The JD Wetherspoons removal of social from their marketing mix yesterday was, in my view, the start of a kick back against social marketing. Maybe it’s a PR stunt, but I would like to think it’s a genuine effort to reduce the noise within our world. Interestingly, all the people who profit from social media engagement think it’s the end of Wetherspoons as a company. I think it could be the start of a new found respect for the Wetherspoons brand – they are confident enough in their service to not have to “tweet pictures of a pint of real ale every day”, as if that genuinely influenced sales.

LinkedIn is now my only social platform, and I’m only on this because it holds the connections I have built up over my career who in the most part I want to stay “connected” to. I’m actively looking to reduce the noise in my world and focus on the bits that are genuinely of interest, based on my own – and not someone else’s – filters.

The irony of me generating some noise for other people by publishing this article is not lost on me by the way. Hopefully if you have seen this you class it as a potentially relevant piece of information you can use to improve your life!

There is room in our industry for more tools that offer genuine filtration and focus on relevant information, because of the volume of irrelevance that there is out there. I’m thinking of building one myself, subscription based, independent and designed to support the users own views of what they need to see – not some advertisers. Watch this space……

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