The Value of Attention
The Value of Attention
May 17, 2010
Most people enjoy getting attention. It’s one of our basic needs. Little kids go through a “Look at me!” stage that lasts years. I believe we never grow out of that. All we do is learn how to be more subtle in saying, “Look at me!”
There are lots of strategies for getting attention. Perhaps you like to select clothing that will make people spend a bit more time looking at you. Maybe you excel at your job, or at a team sport, so people will notice you. I believe that personal attention is a big part of what makes you enjoy getting a massage or a haircut or a pedicure.
I was a banker in the caveman days when ATM machines were new. The big fear from customers was the loss of “personal service.” That’s code for “I like to get attention from a bank teller.”
I worked as a hotel desk clerk for a few summers when I was in college. My boss trained us to understand that half of the complaints we received were valid and the other half were from people who wanted some personal attention. We were trained to give that attention by carefully writing down the complaint and then throwing away the piece of paper when the customer left, assuming the complaint was obvious nonsense. It happened a lot.
The main reason I write this blog is because I like the attention. The main reason people leave comments on what I write is for the attention. We can all concoct other rationalizations, but attention is the main payoff. (By the way, I do read most of the comments.)
Consider the odd concept of asking for autographs. My theory is that the attention of a famous person seems more valuable than the attention of an unknown because the famous person is himself the subject of much attention. It’s as though the famous person is a magnifying glass, focusing the sun of attention on the recipient at the moment that the autograph is given. It’s like regular attention but supercharged.
I assume there is some evolutionary advantage to seeking attention. The first step in mating is making someone else notice you exist. On a psychological level, I believe attention from others is a necessary condition for staving off insanity. Regardless of its purpose, attention is clearly a deep and natural human need.
This brings me to the question of the day. If the New York Times asked you to write a guest editorial, for no pay, on the topic of your choice, would you do it? Suppose you know that your writing won’t change any opinions, and it would take five hours for you to research and write your article. Also assume that the Times editors would tighten up your writing to make it sound professional, so it’s no problem if you’re not a great writer. All you would get from this experience is attention, and probably a lot of it. Would you do it?
If your answer is yes, then it provides a basis for putting an economic value on attention. There’s a price-per-word range that publications are willing to pay professional writers for content. If you would do that same work for free, at least once, then that is one data point for beginning to determine the average value of attention.
Someday an entrepreneur will make a fortune by figuring out how to monetize personal attention in the most efficient way.