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NECC and the Attention Economy

Lots of folks are reflecting on their NECC experiences.  The reactions vary.  Scott’s bullish, while Sheryl is not so sure.  Also, towards the end of the conference, there were LOTS of tweets about brains hurting and brains shutting down.  Ewan, using the work of Chris Craft, even wrote about this seeming cognitive overload.

My guess is that we’re all struggling with living and learning in an attention economy in the digital world.  As I’ve written before, I don’t know a whole lot about “Attention Economics,” but according to Wikipedia, Herbert Simon wrote that:

…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it (Simon 1971, p. 40-41)

Let me repeat that one part: a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information…

Simon wrote that in 1971; a very different time.  So, further down on the Wikipedia site, it says:

According to digital culture expert Kevin Kelly, the modern attention economy is increasingly one where the consumer product costs nothing to reproduce and the problem facing the supplier of the product lies in adding valuable intangibles that can not be reproduced at no cost. He identifies these intangibles as:[1]

  1. Immediacy – priority access, immediate delivery
  2. Personalization – tailored just for you
  3. Interpretation – support and guidance
  4. Authenticity – how can you be sure it is the real thing?
  5. Accessibility – wherever, whenever
  6. Embodiment – books, live music
  7. Patronage – “paying simply because it feels good”, e.g. Radiohead
  8. Findability – “When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention — and most of it free — being found is valuable.”

Undoubtedly, much of the information was immediate, accessible, and findable.  Ustream, CoverItLive, etc.;I mean the backchannels seemed to begin before the conversations/presentations started.  Thus, there was value from that standpoint.

For me, though, the personalization aspect was missing.  I’ve written about how little focus there was on educational leadership and the nearly complete absence of dialogue on issues of equity and social justice.  Thus, ISTE, as a supplier of a product, did not provide those intangibles for me through NECC.  This detracted from the total value of NECC for me.

Also, I think the spector of consumerism made it all less authentic than it needed to be.  At our hotel, each day, some vendor dropped off at our rooms a copy of something called “The Ed Tech Show Daily.”  It was not much more than a glossy accumulation of very large advertisements.  Each ad promoted the “program” or “product” that’s the “best.”  “Company X is the nation’s leading XXXX…”  “Product Z is the #1…in schools…”  I can’t even begin to comment on the exhibit hall.  As Kelly writes, with language like that, how can we be sure it’s the real thing?  With so much promotion going on, authenticity is hard to find.

Finally, I think we’re all having to do our own interpretation of the product that is NECC.  ISTE did not really provide that intangible along with its product.

For me, then, I’m interpreting NECC as a product that ISTE offers along with the intangibles of immediacy, accessiblity and findability.  But, the information was so immediate and accessible that I, for one, did not allocate my attention efficiently.  Furthermore, now we’re all having to personalize and interpret it for ourselves (what does ALL this MEAN for ME?).

I’m wondering now, given all of the critiques of Edubloggercon, if we might consider holding something of that sort (something more unconference-y) AFTER NECC as a space for reflection, interpretation and meaning-making.  I suppose many of us are doing that through our blogs, but I crave some unplugged f-2-f time with edubloggers in particular about all that went down at NECC.  What about you?

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4 Responses to “NECC and the Attention Economy”

  1. I think that unplugged f2f time is very important. I think we sometimes get so caught up in transmitting to people “away” that we lose focus on the people we are with. We need more real life f2f mutual processing time. I think it would make the online stuff better and more valuable.

  2. John Hendron says:

    I think the conference is valuable if you focus your time there on some needs you have identified for yourself or your organization.

    When I saw folks who were constantly just hanging out “in the halls”, i.e., at one of the Promethean stations, I wondered why they weren’t contributing through some sessions of their own.

    NECC is a lot of things to a lot of people; I was asked by many folks who visited my poster session on “what is the difference between a blog and a wiki?” I mean, wow! But there are evidently a lot of those people there. They still need an introduction to some of the tools we now take for granted.

    Why can’t a SIG provide the venue or leadership or organization to offer what you propose? I believe it would be a good avenue at maintaining conversations, developing action, and perhaps the next year, “sponsoring” a series of presentations/events/workshops that take those goals further.

    I got a little unimpressed this year hearing some of our so-called A-listers getting crabby about this and that. NECC has a system to work in and if “hallway conversations” didn’t live up to what they were once before, then I think those folks ought to find their own venue.

    NECC has value. For me, I relish the opportunities to share what I know and have experienced.

    NECC’s vendors have value. They make it the quality of show it is (i.e., signage, daily newsletters, t-shirts, etc., etc.) with their support.

    Unfortunately, for good or bad, we live within a system that likes to buy solutions, not home grow them. I want to see my test scores with pretty graphs: boom, there it is, a few thousand later. I want that cool whiteboard with voters, boom, thousands later, there it is. I want good projectors, well, boom, here they are, at least we think so…

    Some of this stuff, true, I ignore. But some of it falls into place as part of a customized solution for what technology can offer the stakeholders in a school district. I didn’t see many new things I want to buy, but I saw a few.

    Is it wrong to want to buy a few things?

    Yes, the trade show rag at the door was obnoxious, but experience from earlier shows should have taught you to chuck it.

    My 2-cents. Good to back home in VA.

  3. [...] have to remind myself of this when it comes to my own learning. John Becker’s post about the poverty of attention captured this for me as well. I need to remember that even at an event as packed with learning [...]

  4. Jon Becker says:

    @hendron – I think your point about an attendee asking “what is the difference between a blog and a wiki?” is an important one. Edubloggers make up a small percentage of those at NECC and they tend to be much further along the learning curve than the modal attendee. I, too, saw/heard some really basic things and that added great perspective. NECC does serve a really important purpose, even if not for the more advanced folks. That said, I wonder how overwhelming NECC must be for the newbies?

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