The Reality Complex: The Attention Economy

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INFLUENCER: Your attention is the driving force behind VR, AR and MR, writes We Are Royale's Loren Judah
The Reality Complex: The Attention Economy

Attention is a commodity more valuable than any currency. The products you buy, content you consume, and places you go all feed a system designed to capture your attention and provide you with more stimuli. This is due in part by the growth of our connected culture as we increasingly take our lives online. In The Reality Complex, we’ve been exploring the social and creative considerations augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality will bring to market. In part three we look at what drives this technology: your attention.

We use smartphones a lot these days. An understatement to be sure, but pair that with our explosive growth in social networks and we come up with some pretty staggering figures. Consider that the average US user spends 50 minutes on Facebook alone in a given day, and that’s just one site from two years ago (Facebook 2016 Report). Another study found that young adults were spending, on average, five hours a day on their smartphones (PLOS ONE, Beyond Self Report). When we account for all time spent online to a connected culture, shopping, reading news, playing games, or even working, we begin to picture another world. A world shared and experienced in relative space. As we continue down this path, our relationship to our living reality will become intertwined with our relationship to our virtual one. In many ways, it already has.

We may invite it into our everyday lives where the dangers are disguised behind a promise of convenience. In a world where we share stupid cat GIFs and Instagram celebrities secretly selling us fancy water, we are already giving our attention away. As we continue to live our lives online, corporations will benefit from our personal attention. They will create more ways for all of us to benefit off each other’s attention as well. Mindlessly binging on random video memes feels good to you and even better to the user getting paid for it. We’ve created a new economy driven by attention that everyone can participate in. The increased precision to which we will acquire attention analytics will mean more accurate targeted marketing where the goal is less about purchasing and more about retaining a consumer ecosystem. While we can’t guarantee that someone is actually watching the TV left on in the living room, we will know exactly what they are looking at in their MR headset at all times. It’s called 'Retinal Tracking' and it’s going to revolutionise the marketing industry

The value of mixed reality in our attention economy is the benefit technology brings to personal tracking. Learning more about you while you learn more about something else. In MR where content will be shared and exist all around us, the virtual and physical locations could become much like that of the popular Twitter feed or trending YouTube video: designed to capture attention for as long as possible. Even the physical locations in our 'real world' will become trackable. The avocado stand at the grocery store is going to have an insane comments section. Best to ignore it.

Everything in our world can be considered content. Just as we do now with traditional ad media, we will track every facet of our MR future and strive to capture the attention of everyone as they go about their day. These moments of advertising will increasingly look more like recommendations or social discussions disguised behind the illusion of personal discovery. We will track how often people look at the fountain in the park just as precisely as we track a user’s buying habits. 

“Why would anyone willingly participate in this?”

Consider this scenario: A product tech company introduces a new MR device and offers to lease it to anyone for free. As you use the device, it tracks you and the world around you, helping this tech company visually map and construct an image of the physical and digital world. Here’s the catch, if you want to use it for free you must leave the tracking analytics running at all times. If you were to disable tracking you will be billed $50 a month. In this scenario, everyone has the ability to participate regardless of wealth, though only the wealthiest can retain their personal privacy.

While this new personalised tracking may sound far fetched, we’re already inadvertently providing our data on just about everything we do. 'Provide us with anonymous usage data to help make our products better', 'Based on your history you might like these other videos', 'Top 10 sandwiches near you', 'Can you ‘like’ my picture for me?' Our lives are tracked directly and indirectly every single day in the hopes to provide us with more relevant and personalised information. Creating this benefit is the tracking and categorising of individuals as we move about the online world, and now, the physical. 

It will be incredibly important to approach design with a mindful and ethically responsible focus as we create these connected, augmented experiences. We have a responsibility in our work now more than ever. We need to design experiences to be more inclusive, mindful, and empowering for everyone. Wielding the power of attention needn't be a concern. We should consider every user in the experiences we create and every voice in the conversations we start.

We’ve reached a point where society has started to define itself by the technology we use. Our connected culture is driven by the attention we give it and is only limited by a screen that fits in our pockets. Augmented Reality has opened the door into a future where we can visually alter the world around us. That future comes with a connected society still seeking individuality and purpose. We take our first steps into immersive Mixed Reality and into a world re-imagined. Defined not only by the bricks and beams of the physical, but by the technological layers of human innovation and imagination. Our future will be of our own design, existing in a world where we will question every layer that makes up our growing reality complex.  



Loren Judah is creative director at We Are Royale

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We Are Royale, 1 year ago