Which do you think is more valuable, time or money? Increasingly for many of us living in the center of 21st century network economy, the answer is TIME.

Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s 2001 article, “Do we have your attention? New literacies, digital technologies and the education of adolescents” provides some excellent food for thought. The fourth paragraph of their paper summarizes well the theory of the “attention economy”:

“[Michael] Goldhaber links the superabundance of information to the hypothesis of an emerging attention economy. He believes the fact that information is in over-saturated supply is fatal to the coherence of the idea of an information economy-since ‘economics are governed by what is scarce’ (Goldhaber 1997: n.p.). More fully stated, economies are based on ‘what is both most desirable and ultimately most scarce’ (Goldhaber 1998b: n.p.). Yet, if people in postindustrial societies will increasingly live their lives in the spaces of the Internet, these lives will fall more and more under economic laws organic to this new space. Goldhaber (1997, 1998a) argues that the basis of the coming new economy will be attention and not information.”

The import of the existence of an ATTENTION economy rather than merely an INFORMATION AGE is huge. We see this every day: people and information compete constantly for the finite resource which is “our attention.” Regardless of who you are, how smart you may be, how much money you have, or where you live, you still have only 24 earth hours in each day. We all decide how to allocate those hours, and this decision-making process is at the heart of the attention economy theory.

David Warlick has at least tacitly acknowledged the existence and importance of the attention economy in his book, “Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century.” David encourages educators to recognize the importance of students learning to communicate succinctly and powerfully using authentic tools. Today, this means multimedia products, to communicate with images, audio, animations, and video. Are students doing this in your school, or is everyone still writing 5 paragraph essays on Big Chief tablets in cursive?

We need traditional literacy skills, but we also need teachers as well as students to embrace NEW LITERACIES that are essential to understand and command in our attention economy. As Tim Wilson observed last week, terms like “RSS” and “podcasting” are still not very mainstream. But these trends are not, in my opinion, just another passing fad.

Information glut is here, and it is only going to get worse. If you are not using a tool like Bloglines as a free RSS aggregator, it is time to start. If you are an educator and are not yet planning to experiment with podcasting in 2005-2006, it’s time to amend your plans. We’re in the 21st century attention economy, and we had better be pulling out all the stops to prepare ourselves and our students for success in this dynamic environment. It is an exciting adventure, but thankfully it is not a journey we have to go on alone. We can call on an online fellowship of committed and passionate educators, who share a common vision of educational reform and authentic instruction.

I’m a self-appointed part of this informal team / fellowship. Don’t you want to join us?!

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