DISCUSSION: THE ECONOMY OF ATTENTION
Doro Franck and Georg Franck on: The Economy of Attention
The talk took place @ Public Netbase 2nd of June 1995.
Georg Franck: Economy of Aufmerksamkeit: this is a wide field of course. The main idea is: Aufmerksamkeit is something we are short of. We live in an information society and notice it, because we cannot escape from information. The good we are short of is not information itself, but the capacity to do something with the information, to select it, to use it. In a word: Aufmerksamkeit is a tight good and it is getting tighter and tighter, because the interesting uses of this Aufmerksamkeit are increasing.
The things that are tightest of all, i. e time and money, are not getting tighter, because we take more of them or earn more. They in fact are getting tighter, because the possible uses are increasing.
Money, for instance, gets chronically tight just when there is enough of it around and when there is no lack of it. This is one aspect of this economy of Aufmerksamkeit, the tightness of Aufmerksamkeit as an energy that one has to find oneself.[...]
But Aufmerksamkeit is not only tight as this found energy, but also as contribution of other people's Aufmerksamkeit, as the attention one gets by others. And as a kind of income Aufmerksamkeit is actually even tighter. The battle for Aufmerksamkeit, starting with the media, publishing, publicity etc., does not rage about one's own Aufmerksamkeit, but about other people's Aufmerksamkeit.
Other people's Aufmerksamkeit is a demanded and tight good, even more so, as one's own Aufmerksamkeit is already tight. As Aufmerksamkeit gets less and less, we notice that it has always been a very demanded good, that it is something without which we cannot live, we need it.[...]
It's no wonder therefore, that with the developing of the infrastructure Aufmerksamkeit is gathered in big masses and can be redistributed. Through the media, in particular, a new kind of economy emerges, a new kind of noticing, a new kind of competition. The media are financial institutions responsible for the redistribution, up to the capitalizing of Aufmerksamkeit. They have developed just as financial institutions, banks, credit institutions and stock markets at the beginning of industrialization have.
Aufmerksamkeit according to economic criteria has the characteristics of a new currency, with a very high utility value and on the other hand an included exchange value. The media take over the functions of a bank by granting credits. Tremendous credits are granted to people who can appear in the media and they have to cash in the credits. The whole thing has to pay for the medium itself, that even takes up a stock market function, choosing the big and fat capitals, the prominent people, and looking after them or rather dealing in them. In one word: we have landed - without noticing it - in a kind of transformation of the economy, Aufmerksamkeit is leaving money economy behind.
Dorothea Franck: The economy of Aufmerksamkeit appeals to me as an image, but I only begin to understand something, if I'm able to elaborate another image of the thing that is under my nose. When I switch the television on, Aufmerksamkeit is tapped. The viewing figures that I contribute to, are converted in a very concrete way. To me the fact that it's a battle for the Aufmerksamkeit of others, seems interesting. The collecting and cashing in of Aufmerksamkeit of others is then the ecology of Aufmerksamkeit. It displays the quality of Aufmerksamkeit that is inside us. Media develop with the mad offer: "look at me, look at me, use me", etc.
Parallel to this, and apparently independently, the whole scene is moving; "New Age", for instance, changes in philosophy and in psychology as well, and that might be the equivalent to it. If one looks at the development from this angle - it isn't that something completely new is emerging, but that things are redistributed and drifting apart... If something is moving in one direction, than it can be assumed that something is going on also in the other direction.
In a way I regard this as an immunity one tries to build up, whether it is meditation or Yoga or other psychologies, or an intuitive filtering. Instead of caring a little about everything, there might be cultures - that are viewed as totally independent -, that have an compensatory effect.
G.F.: What appeals to me with this approach to Aufmerksamkeit, isn't only to continue a kind of culture criticism or to extend a culture criticism to an actually newer type of economy. That would certainly be interesting as well, but it's only one lane. In the theoretical economy an economy of information is demanded very loudly, but it isn't really getting going. I'm afraid that it is so, because everybody is staring non-stop at the information, which means, it must be a precious, tight good that is being dealt with, distributed, produced. I think that this is the wrong approach, it's one aspect, the other is a kind of new access to the soul.
For the interesting thing about Aufmerksamkeit - not one's own, but that of the others - isn't that one is registered in traffic counting or in a list of circulation figures. The point is, that oneself becomes an object of the data processing in other data systems. The incredible kick of it - and the reason why the contribution of other people's Aufmerksamkeit really is a kind of drug and probably the greatest drug of all -, is the idea that one plays a role in the consciousness of the other. In a completely different world to which one has no direct access.
We all know only our own consciousness, no one has directly inspected the world and the experiences of somebody else. That is why so many philosophers ask themselves, if solicism isn't right after all saying that everything only happens in one's own imagination, that everything is only a dream in one's own world and whether there is still something beyond it; it is not clear, whether there is a plurality of consciousness.
In a completely unintellectual way we naturally assume that this plurality of consciousness exists, because we couldn't stand it otherwise, if we wouldn't know that others take notice of us, that we play a role in the consciousness of others. Stupidly enough one can call this inclination to like playing a role in other people's consciousness, vanity, which I don't mind, because everybody who has some of his senses left, is vain. I would even suggest that vanity is a basis, one of the supporting columns of ethics.
By wanting to play a role in the other's consciousness, we develop a feeling, an empathy for this other consciousness as well.
If one doesn't express it so technically, but the way it is really like, then one should talk of the soul. Scientists say: yes, we do have to believe in the soul. Of course, you can't measure the soul, as it is always only accessible in the first person. But we all know what we are talking about, if we say soul. Scientists know that, too, if they don't express themselves as scientists.
The interesting thing with this economy is, that it shows what an experiment never can show. One can't objectify the soul, one can't show it, demonstrate in public that it exists. However, we have a huge industry in the meantime to demonstrate it, the business sense is just cleverer in this regard than the theoretical sense. [...] And the industry doesn't do that only to earn money, no, of course money is earned in publicity and in media, but that's not the point. The point is the ability of the media to redistribute Aufmerksamkeit on a grand scale. I'm only mentioning it as a cue now - a modern aristocracy, the aristocracy of prominence.
Prominent people simply are the big earners or the millionaires of the income Aufmerksamkeit, they take in more Aufmerksamkeit than they ever could invest and donate. The thing about the media is that, if they had to motivate everything with money, what would happen is that it would be a rather boring, uninteresting industry, but as they can seduce with the enticement : "You can get prominent with me, and nowhere else!", they shape the best minds, the most interesting people, the biggest beauties, the greatest talents, whatever you want, they get it.
And the fact that money is earned this way, is almost a by-product, although it isn't that uninteresting if you consider that the most modern medium, the most modern branch in this economy of Aufmerksamkeit is private television that finances itself only through publicity. Which means that the medium has to gain so much Aufmerksamkeit as a medium, that it can sell the screen, its surface as an advertising panel.
Advertisement is to offer the attraction of Aufmerksamkeit as a service for sale. So the income of Aufmerksamkeit is more important than money for the medium and only in the last link turning into cash matters.
This idea turns quite a lot upside down. The phenomenon which is denounced in culture criticism as cynicism, as cynical mass business, should be a new access to the soul. Which is usually denied or at least met with a pitying smile. Yes, I like that.
D.F.: I know why I don't have a television - because I feel that something is somehow tapped only one-sidedly. I get something back, namely images and so-called information, but what about the other media? Maybe the point that there is a one-sidedness is the reason why television the way it is today could only last for a very short period in history - if you think in longer terms than twenty years - could only last one "minute".
What about the so-called interactive systems then, how interactive are interactive systems in historical systems ? And what about Aufmerksamkeit in this context?
G.F.: I think there are two points of view. A realistic one and a utopian one. I start with the latter. If we think of the media, of this capitalism in the mind, it's quite right to think of a new type of socialism and the slogan of this socialism has been already proclaimed by Andy Warhol.
Happiness in future will mean to be famous once in one's lifetime for 10 minutes. To experience what it's like when all are watching. If there should be anything like that, it can only be conceived with an interactive net. That not only a few participate in what is going on in the net, but that - just look - [all] switch in and watch.
It's quite possible that the development goes in this direction. I just don't believe that the big capital is going to collapse because of that. One has to imagine that it has established itself and on this big capital a whole class of big earners is dependent.
D.F.: A whole class of big earners of Aufmerksamkeit?
G.F.: A whole class of prominent people and of those who want to get prominent, is dependent on it and of course, a lot of talents are tied to it. And if you want to get really rich, you have to go through the credit institutions, the stock market. If someone wants to get a really big fish, he has to look after his market value.
Konrad Becker: What I'm interested in, apart from the personal approach to it, is the immaterial economy. I think there must have been examples of it already before. If one speaks of the banking system of Aufmerksamkeit, it must have been possible also earlier to save Aufmerksamkeit. Just like Uncle Scrooge's money store.
I don't think this could be solved on a magnetic level, I don't think that a picture archive is the actual store of Aufmerksamkeit, but there is an analogy between what is called idols and stars in the media world and that what was called before the cultic economy of Aufmerksamkeit. A guest in Public Netbase who spoke about network politics and information wars was a religious scholar. I would like to know if you see a connection.
G.F.: Oh yes, that kind of saving of Aufmerksamkeit, the earned Aufmerksamkeit is the state. And to be precise, not quite so directly, but in an indirect way.
You get prominent not only by earning a lot of Aufmerksamkeit now, but also by having earned Aufmerksamkeit in the past. It's not enough - at least to become a star - to have earned a lot of Aufmerksamkeit without anybody noticing it. You get prominent because all look up and see at the same time that the others are also looking up.
The notion of a fan that there are many other fans and for quite a while already, is the first necessary condition for a star to be born. On top there must be, apart from the direct fans, a huge body of followers, of indirect fans, that only watch because the others do. All are watching now, so there must be something to it!
The aureole of the star that surrounds the aura of a star is the notion of every single fan and person watching that a lot of Aufmerksamkeit is paid at that moment. This gloriole makes the real star. Turning it round, this is the method to save Aufmerksamkeit.
Aufmerksamkeit never will vanish totally again, it bears interest in the medium of Aufmerksamkeit on its own. This is one form of saving, of course there are others as well.
Knowledge altogether is crystallized Aufmerksamkeit.
D.F.: But Aufmerksamkeit wears down in time and therefore it is no good that you can save. With some luck I can find money that I've lost, but if I fritter away my time, my Aufmerksamkeit, I'll never get it back again.
G.F.: The saving of time isn't possible. But, of course, there is exploitation with this kind of capitalism of the mind. The prominent person fetches living Aufmerksamkeit, gathers it and benefits from it. If one offers the viewer really something interesting, one can say, it's a fair deal.
If, however, one only cares, only prompts to keep the people before the screen, if it doesn't matter anymore to give them something in reward, then it isn't. They only have to be kept long enough before the box, regardless of what happens to them - this is a classical form of exploitation, of course.
Still, I don't think that it will remain that way, maybe I'm too optimistic in that respect.
D.F.: And what about Internet? Maybe that's organized in a too anarchical way. And the interesting thing about it is, that such a self-organizing system develops. This is why no such monopolies could emerge so far. [...]
But a lot of Aufmerksamkeit is taken off the non-interactive media, and I think, it forces the television people and the media people to reflect.
Art and the economy of Aufmerksamkeit
D.F.: Concentration and risks are demanded for the production, you can't speculate with the reaction of others.
One cannot explain in a socialist, but also in a normal, mechanistically conceived world - our every day consciousness is mainly mechanist after all - why we should be interested in art, if art doesn't come into existence following the fixed rules of entertainment.
The best known poems of this century are those about which people can [not] say: I understand this once and for all. And still, they are those, which cause a stir, because people say: I get something out of it.
That's only possible if we imagine a world, a "non-dividable" universe, in which the things that we feel to be the mind are not separated of that what others do. Only then you can understand that you can understand things that aren't made understandable. I make the best art, if I do it just for myself. If I don't look right and left.
The most individual thing must be a calming point that goes deeper than what taps Aufmerksamkeit.
I want to turn to Paul Celan who gets a lot of Aufmerksamkeit even though he is totally cryptic. He says: a poem is a message in a bottle. But it arrives exactly where it should arrive. He also talks a bit more prosaically about it: A poem or piece of art that doesn't steal a glance at the Aufmerksamkeit right from the start, is a self-organizing structure that addresses itself, addresses itself to the people to whom it means something, without a rational reason.
In the context of this self-addressing message, I wondered: What happens in these world-wide information nets, where there is so much that nobody can use it in his lifetime, and doesn't even want to. It sometimes is more rewarding to look at one picture for a long time than to walk all along 100 pictures or to read one page of a text twenty times then twenty pages of the text. I suspect that there is a kind of intelligence in poetry that can be used concretely. In the glut that emerges anarchically and self-organizingly into something that one can only make out on the basis of style.
In our culture there is a cult about explicit information that coincides with the time of the mechanical conception of the world.
G.F.: Another comment on the self-address. I think that in order to handle this crazy, overwhelming mass, new methods are getting very important, maybe even a new medium of art will emerge. I can't browse through everything anymore, it's no more possible, I can no more check everything. I have to work with another method. I can't calculate, check, explicate, but have to - just as I read the expression of a face - pay attention to - I'm saying this without being careful - to style. Do I like it, don't I like it? [...]
So far only the mechanics of the mind have been externalized, now other, intuitive factors are being looked for to find new forms. You've made an interesting statement:
"Poetry is the language of the future." Whether in words, as a visual phenomenon, music or otherwise, that appeals to us in a different way, not only in a discursive way.
I think there is a connection with another trend, which I have always found interesting with computers, they show the limits of predictability. And it becomes more and more apparent in the intensive involvement with computers that there is something to our consciousness, our intuition, our Aufmerksamkeit, on which with predictability we cannot get the knack . That also in nature there are many phenomena that cannot be predicted, the whole area of quantum physics shows that there might be a lot.
I could imagine that by testing the possibilities of predictability it'll become apparent, that the predictable is only a small island in the ocean of the unpredictable. That this wave of chaos and determinist chaos was only a ripple in advance of the real waves. Chaos is only unpredictable in practical terms, it's chaotic because of a lack of knowledge. But their might be vast areas of pure coincidence, of actual unpredictabilty, and these areas might not only be shown by negative proofs in physics or logics or mathematics, but through new procedures, autonomous agents that do something quite different, things that talk to us, become apparent through style.
The reason why a line of a poem has such an impression on us, isn't that we can comprehend the matter discursively, and yet it does. But why a "Jacobsen" chair is more beautiful than another chair, we cannot calculate, its just a "look!".
We don't only perceive through calculations, the mind isn't only a computer that has intuitive abilities through incredibly complicated calculations, but there is something else as well. And we'll only reach that, if we eat through this semolina mountain of predictability. In this sense I understand the dictum "poetry is the language of the future".
D.F.: The myth of the acting subject collapses, because as soon as one knows that one reaches it only through introspection, it becomes apparent that even on the level of thinking, of thought, there can't be anything like an acting subject. It's impossible to discern whether one has been thought or whether one thinks.
It is after all a common expression to say: an idea has come to my mind. Why does intuition generally have such a bad press? I think, it has to do with the fact that our culture has a cult of control. And to expand calculability as far as possible has a democratic element as well. In the sense that others can follow it logically. So, if you can think what you want to prove to me, then I've got to be able to think it too, provided I follow the same rules. Whereas intuition has these surprising encounters in manifest forms such as in art, where I realize: oh, I'm not alone in the world.
Intuition is something vulnerable, and everybody cultivates it differently. In our culture there are hardly any institutions for instance which establish the refinement of sensuousness as a common goal. Why is one so afraid to recognize intuition as a way of understanding?
G.F.: I find it very important to clarify this question. Before the Enlightenment intuition could be coming back with a vengeance and to break its power, it was absolutely necessary to insist on rationality, on public demonstrability. So that nothing counts that can't be demonstrated.
As, however, intuitive methods can't be demonstrated, one has to rely on the credibility, on the truthfulness of the person. The style has to show whether the person can be trusted or not. This is something we have to learn again..
But during the high times of absolutism and dogmatised faith these intuitive methods were strongly used in order to maintain a power structure. Against that, it needed strictest hygiene, so the whole business of intuition had to kick the bucket. Now we suffer from the consequences, but on the other hand we have profited enormously by these hygienic purifications and are now in the privileged position to be able from a secure level of rationality to readmit intuition. Compared to the beginnings of the Enlightenment we are in a totally different situation, in an enviable situation.
K.B.: What I think is important in the report on the economy of Aufmerksamkeit is the reference to hedonism as a solution of specific social, cultural and ecological problems.
G.F.: A basic statement on ethics: I claim that all in all people act quite morally. Society is very active in mobilizing moral pressure. But people certainly aren't moral, in the sense that they follow an abstract rule - "you must".
That's why the fears haven't come true that people get immoral if their dogmatic faith and the threat of hell vanish. Inasmuch as people are moral, they are moral out of wisdom.
Because they realize it's better for them. It's an effort and not economical, and that's why people who know how to defend their interests usually don't lie much. Ethics can be very rational in the sense that one understands it to be clever. Even a saint appreciates his way of living as the most clever and the best thing in his own way of thinking. If you include vanity, it seems to be the case, that in a hedonistic way of thinking it can be wise to act ethically. It's possible to show that egoism and altruism are not really that far apart.
A conception of the world as a cosmos of many single, attentive (aufmerksam) beings or souls, in the sense of a monadology, with the aim to attract as much Aufmerksamkeit as possible on oneself. In the sense that one is granted hospitality in as many of these other worlds as possible and basks in this other Aufmerksamkeit, a metaphysically extended and sublimated personal vanity - to put it very carefully.
That could really be an ecological conception of the world, in that one reflects, vis á vis every single being, what passes over into one's own world. Somebody who entertains this conception of the world treats his surroundings quite differently, It wouldn't be a conception of the world with a "you must" as a priority, but first of all it would be an adventure to settle down in this conception of the world.
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