There are people in the world who make a living communicating and living “in the noise” of email, IM, Twitter, Digg, TechMeme and the like. For them, the parade of communication and and information is probably a boon.
Unfortunately, for the rest of us (who make a living producing stuff– whether it’s software, design, written words, business plans, law briefs, or whatever) communication and social software is a necessary evil that’s getting to be… more evil.
Think about what the knowledge worker looked like 15-20 years ago compared to today. What frightens me is how scientific social software developers are getting about separating people from their time. We’re well beyond cowboy coders building something neat that people latch onto and have some fun with. Instead, we have analytics teams measuring how software is being used in a way that’s really never been done before. Hovering over our LCD cages like BF Skinner, they are watching what we’re doing, tweaking things to make it more engaging and more addictive, and measuring some more.
I liken it to the evolution of casinos and cruise ships, who basically run human cattle through finely tuned funnels designed to fleece them of money at every step… But instead of money, what we’re being fleeced of on the Internet is time and attention.
Again, for some people– this is fine. For some people, it’s literally building a career. In a way, I’m envious of them– they get to spend their lives immersed in a life-long party. I’m kind of envious of people who work in Vegas, too.
But for the quiet army of knowledge workers who are actually creating stuff– the boots on the ground in our knowledge economy– I think the increasingly personalized infoporn delivered to us through a broadening array of channels (like RSS, alerts, Twitter, Digg, Email, IM, Social Networks and more) is a looming disaster.
I imagine some people are shaking their heads reading this stuff and saying, “But people can choose not to indulge in this crap. We’re all perfectly capable of behaving like adults and working when we need to.” Indeed, maybe people will wake up and we’ll see a renaissance of attention.
I’m not so sure.
As I look at industries ranging from the gambling to alcoholic beverages, and as I watch very smart people fall prey to the attention-vultures, I think I’m more and more convinced that a concerted and scientific attack on the pleasure centers of our monkey brains will win the day.