Behavioural Health

The Attention Economy: From Metric to Mechanism

November 19, 2023
3 min read


  • Over the last two decades, attention evolved from a simple measure of user engagement and satisfaction in digital products to a central design mechanism.
  • Attention shifted focus from being a metric that aligned with user value, leading to products built more to hold attention than to offer genuine value.
  • The need for conscious creation and usage of technology is important. Attention should be used intentionally to enhance human experiences: not just for engagement.

Over the last twenty years: new apps, websites, and technologies have brought new ways to connect.

When attention emerged as a metric, it was more than just numbers; it was about understanding how these digital innovations resonated with us. It was a sign of engagement, a clue to how much value users were finding in a product. This wasn't about counting minutes or clicks; it was about gauging the utility and the satisfaction that came from using these digital tools.

From Metric to Mechanism

Early on, attention was a gentle nudge: a way for builders to see if they were on the right track. 

Attention was a beacon of user satisfaction. It was a proxy for engagement, a silent yet powerful communicator of the joy, the learning, and the value that users derived from technology. Attention aligned with value when the time spent in digital space was time spent by choice.

Attention started to influence not only how digital products were designed but also how success was measured in the digital realm. This shift saw builders and marketers delving deeper into what truly captivates users. They started looking at the duration of app usage, delving into what makes a user return, share, or speak about their digital experiences. This approach to measuring attention led to a more refined understanding of user behaviour.

But something started to change. Attention changed from a metric of value to a mechanism in product design. Somewhere along the way, we started building digital experiences that captivate, instead of building digital experiences that are captivating.

This led to a new breed of products. Products were built not just to attract our attention but also to hold our attention. Attention stopped being a way to measure user engagement; attention became a mechanism that would keep our eyes glued to the screen, sometimes at the cost of the genuine value that once kept us coming back to these platforms.

Attention & Mindful Technology

Technology isn’t bad. It isn’t good either. Technology is a reflection of our choices, our values, and our intentions. We need to be conscientious builders, marketers, and consumers. 

We can steer technology toward being a tool that enriches our lives. We can use attention in a good way. This is about remembering the roots of why we created these digital spaces – to add value, to connect, and to enrich lives.

Each of us plays a role. As builders, it's about crafting with intention and empathy. As consumers, it's about choosing technologies that add depth and meaning to our lives. It's about using our attention not just as a currency but as a compass, guiding us toward experiences that truly matter.

Attention does (and should) have a role in the technology we build. But user attention needs to be considered and used mindfully – intentionally: for the benefit of the human experience.

With gratitude,


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