Nicholas + The Economist
I really enjoyed Wu’s book, The Attention Merchants. Two important notes regarding your article and podcast.

First, The Economist would be interested in putting the loss of productivity into economic terms. As Wu implies, it affects both the demand side and the supply side. Content consumers alone aren’t the only ones wasting their time — the producers are too. In “Content Consumption Is Obsolete,” I discussed this predicament and its economic manifestation in great detail (emphasis mine):

“In layman’s terms, our demand for content is finite, due to logistical realities. For instance, the day is only 24-hours long, so we can only consume so much content. The supply-side of the content market is currently beyond this outer-bound. Producers are making too much media, and consumers don’t have the time to consume that excess — even after publishers have effectively reduced prices to zero. The inefficient waste from this supply glut is called deadweight loss

“The consequences of content oversupply resonate beyond the producers themselves. “Peak content” on the supply-side and “peak consumption” on the demand weigh-on the consumer’s ability to find, enjoy, retain, and share knowledge. In the broader macro, this deadweight loss is a massive inefficiency — a misallocation of resources that drags-down productivity, widening the macroeconomic output gap.

Second, in your article/podcast, Wu mischaracterizes modern media’s effect on consumers (emphasis mine):

“Mr Wu bemoans that a major obstacle getting in the way of our productivity and our ambition is that we often sit down at a computer with a particular task in mind only to find that 2 hours, 12 articles and 20 YouTube videos later, it’s suddenly midnight... wasting [our] time… they are making it easier for the rest of us to procrastinate.

Tying this all together, the oversupply of content is emblematic of deadweight loss that weighs on productivity. However, when it comes to social media and networking, consumers are not ‘wasting time’ or ‘procrastinating’; they’re just reallocating online the time formerly spent with entertainment and communications offline. I discussed this common misconception in “Traditional Media’s Epic Struggle with New Media”:

“[Clickbait] was never pitched or positioned as a medium to educate or inform readers… nor did it crowd-out the mindshare we budgeted for [such] consumption. Clickbait… simply entertained us. In such a way, we just reallocated the time we spent with other entertainment outlets (e.g. MTV) into clickbait-y listicles and their ilk… In reality, entertainment has always had a large share of consumers’ attention. (That’s highly correlated with an improving standard of living, more so than it’s emblematic of an Idiocracy.)”

These are important observations if you’re interested in the economic problems and solutions associated with consumer technology. This is one of the biggest problems of our era, and it needs to be properly framed, as I described in “The End of the GDP Mismeasurement Debate”:

“…the intrinsic benefit of Tech 2.0 in aggregate is more savings (i.e. time & money) — the economic benefit of which is derived from the realizations from reallocating that savings. Whether it’s Skype saving you a cross country trip for a meeting, your iPhone aggregating devices & services, or knowledge being free & open, those are all net-net disinflationary or opportunity costs, so you need to displace that forgone output by reinvesting savings with some ROI. It’s creative destruction.”

Anthony Bardaro is the Founder of Annotote, an app that finally provides a reading experience that’s all signal, no noise. Join top journalists and readers on the network where they consolidate their daily media diets — an app that makes it 10x better to read everything you read anyway. Try Annotote today!

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