Generally speaking, technology makes resources less scarce. But there are some resources that will always remain scarce, at least for the foreseeable future. And it is these resources that the economy of tomorrow will inevitably be based on.
One such resource is attention. People have limited time and therefore can only pay attention to so many things in a given day. People can only follow so many blogs, watch so many channels, go to so many events, and see so many ads before they simply run out of time.
Even in a theoretical future where most material goods are virtually free, and money is largely irrelevant, people’s attention will still be a highly fought-over commodity. In fact, attention may become the single most important economic resource in the years ahead.
A recent Wired article details the rise of the internet service Klout, which measures the influence of people on the web.
“Much as Google’s search engine attempts to rank the relevance of every web page, Klout—a three-year-old startup based in San Francisco—is on a mission to rank the influence of every person online. Its algorithms comb through social media data: If you have a public account with Twitter, which makes updates available for anyone to read, you have a Klout score, whether you know it or not (unless you actively opt out on Klout’s website). You can supplement that score by letting Klout link to harder-to-access accounts, like those on Google+, Facebook, or LinkedIn. The scores are calculated using variables that can include number of followers, frequency of updates, the Klout scores of your friends and followers, and the number of likes, retweets, and shares that your updates receive. High-scoring Klout users can qualify for Klout Perks, free goodies from companies hoping to garner some influential praise.” (link)
In this case, influence is just another way to say “How much attention do you command?” Klout is a compelling example of what the currency of the future might look like. Some day we might get rid of traditional money, in the sense that money is a scarce, transferrable medium of exchange. But the human desire for status and attention means we will probably adopt some new Klout-like measure of our economic worth.
In short, while it’s definitely premature to bet on a specific company like Klout, it’s time to consider that the attention you command may fast be turning into the most important resource you own.