Attention, Autonomy and Agency: The New Commodities

Individuals in developed countries are increasingly living in a ‘smart’ technology reality. With Google Homes infiltrating each house and Bluetooth headphones eliminating our struggle against tangled wires, we are witnessing an increasingly intangible reality, where even some of the largest companies own no real assets (e.g. WeWork, Uber, Airbnb) and the absence of things that define existence (time included) such as weight, human drivers, physical accessories or complicated steps, is what marks the advancement of smart technology.

As such, the latest commodities that are coveted, being traded and utilised are shifting into unprecedented paradigms; namely, those that are not necessarily products or services, but rather the ability to capture, cultivate and harness peoples’ attention, autonomy and agency.


Although a widely accepted belief is that the average attention span has reduced as a result of social media, an interesting research study by Prezi, a presentation platform, has demonstrated that a more likely outcome is people have become more selective in the content they pay attention to.

This is no surprise considering the way social media operates; with mounds of content at your fingertips, constantly scrolling through an endless, fleeting stream, it’s only natural that the brain would react by choosing to only focus on that content which truly grasps the viewer’s attention. And akin to news that is interesting, is news that is current and relevant; in today’s age, information is constantly being updated, changed and added to, in a way that not keeping tabs on it daily, if not hourly, can cause you to be behind.

This is why I really struggled to get back into reading, in particular; the thought of zoning out from what was happening in the rest of the world, and to solely focus on this one story line or fictional narrative for hundreds of pages seemed fruitless. Even just trying to read a few pages became a struggle, because my mind had been conditioned into quickly jumping to another, more recent source of information. It was only when this became overwhelming that I welcomed the clichéd escape fiction offered me.

Therefore, the ability to keep a person’s sustained attention and interest has become key. It is one of the reasons why many YouTubers will keep giveaway details until the very end, and why subscription and followership is rewarded in social media, particularly monetarily.



This one was really interesting to me because it was subtle in nature, unlike Attention which stood out to me like a red flag. The key to this modern commodity is the way in which smart technology and social media can allow us to feel independent, self-sufficient, provide a personalised touch and make us feel as though we are having a privileged experience.

Take Apps as an example: many Apps are free, and the only divide between those who have them and those who don’t (bar access to smart phones and wifi – note this post began with the notion that this reality exists in developed countries) is simply the ability to plan, be organised, and above all be in-the-know. For example, if you are due to take a flight on an Airline, downloading the Airline’s app makes your smart phone a one-stop shop; you’ve got your mobile boarding pass, live flight tracker and updates, as well as guidance and reminders as to your gate and boarding time.

This means you can by-pass the crowds gathering around notice boards at the airport, enjoy the simplicity of having one device which takes care of everything for you, feeds you all the information you need, and in a notably professional and easy way. All of this means you are more likely to have a positive experience, all because smart technologies have recognised the need to provide consumers with their autonomy.


Although I found Autonomy very interesting, Agency is my favourite, because once I came to the realisation that this was exactly what social media enabled, everything clicked. Agency, I argue, is the golden key to the success of anything related to social media and smart technologies. Recognition and harnessing the value of this is what gets users to engage with the technology; when they see that their decisions, actions and opinions can be recognised and have an effect, people are drawn to it and are likely to continue feeding the source of this Agency.

The running joke with this is that it’s impossible not to offend anyone online. And, ironically, this blog in itself fuels the notion that social media, technology etc. enables one’s opinions to be heard, regardless of how qualified you may be to give such opinions. And that ability to so effortlessly vocalise your opinion to hundreds of your contacts in an instant, without addressing anyone in particular but still feeling the benefit of having your voice heard, is exactly why humanity has jumped at the opportunity.

Concluding Thoughts

If you are someone who wants to create a ripple effect in social media, or use smart technologies to enhance your everyday life, I think bearing these modern commodities in mind is essential; notice how existing technology and media already utilises this to its advantage, and whether you use this for your own personal awareness, or use it for your latest business venture, remember that at the end of the day, people want to feel valued and recognised – it is up to us to ensure that social media and smart technologies evolve and advance in a way that is helpful, rather than harmful, to us.

Photo Credits: Cristina Troufa

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