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I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age

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Michael Goldhaber

"In an attention economy, one is . . . nearly always paying, getting, or seeking attention, Michael Goldhaber says.

Credit: Cayce Clifford / The New York Times

Michael Goldhaber is the Internet prophet you've never heard of. Here's a short list of things he saw coming: the complete dominance of the Internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, oversharing, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus.

Most of this came to him in the mid-1980s, when Goldhaber, a former theoretical physicist, had a revelation. He was obsessed with what he felt was an information glut. His epiphany was this: One of the most finite resources in the world is human attention. To describe its scarcity, he latched onto a term coined by psychologist Herbert A. Simon: "the attention economy."

Goldhaber couldn't shake the idea that the desire for attention would cause a deepening inequality. "When you have attention, you have power, and some people will try and succeed in getting huge amounts of attention, and they would not use it in equal or positive ways."

From The New York Times
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