Essay by B.D. McClay: “Attention is finite, the record of how we spend it public, and it is easy enough to check if somebody who tweets every day about Ukraine has ever tweeted about Yemen. Many people are inclined to give somebody they trust a pass; behavior that might attract loud condemnation of a stranger might be ignored if done by a friend. Sometimes, such inconsistencies, added up, indicate that somebody is untrustworthy, that her commitments are insincere, and that there is something manipulative about her public persona. But most of the time, I would hazard, they indicate that people do not live their lives striving for perfect consistency….

The Internet, however, has only one currency, and that currency is attention. On the Internet, we endlessly raise awareness, we platform and deplatform, we signal-boost and call out, and we argue about where our attention should be directed, and how. What we pay attention to and the language in which we pay attention are the only realities worth considering, which is one reason why stories are so often framed by the idea that nobody is talking about a problem, when the problem is often quite endlessly talked about—just not solved. Why isn’t the media covering this story? is a common refrain that is just as often accompanied by a link to an article about the story, which is how the complainer learned about it in the first place.

Attention can be paid and registered in many forms, but you pay attention online by making it known that you are paying attention. Your own expenditure is worthless unless other people are paying attention to you. As they do in regard to the currency of the analog world, people feel as though they get to judge how other people pay attention. Even though most actions are undertaken with some idea of gaining attention, to do something out of a blatant desire to attract attention is gauche and discrediting. People whose job is to translate attention into real money—celebrities, “influencers,” and so on—are often left walking a thin and ridiculous line. They must draw attention to some larger event going on in the world lest they be judged selfish, but their attempts to do so mostly underscore that drawing attention to something means very little…(More)”.