What’s worth more than stocks, gold ingots, even San Francisco (sur)real estate? Professor Richard Lanham has an idea: attention. In a recent interview with California Literary Review about his book The Economics of Attention: Style & Substance in the Age of Information, the UCLA prof says:
…Information is not a scarce commodity; we’re drowning in it. What is scarce is the human attention needed to make sense of it. We really live in an attention economy.
So what is vying for our attention?
What is really important, really real, is the physical stuff of the world. Commodities. Substance.
… Now we’re stuck, it seems, with the “everything else.” With the “fluff.” And the fluff sometimes seems to be more important than the stuff.
Perhaps the best defense against the onslaught of fluff is to create something of substance, suggests Lanham. He quotes A.E. Housman:
“But the pleasure of learning and knowing, though not the keenest, is yet the least perishable of pleasures; the least subject to external things, and the play of chance, and the wear of time. And as a prudent man puts money by to serve as a provision for the material wants of his old age, so too he needs to lay up against the end of his days provision for the intellect.”
In particular, Lanham is bullish on books:
Never have more books been published; never have there been so many different kinds of books; never have they been sold so imaginatively; never have there been so many books that I want to read!
… Lots of articles about how many other sources of entertainment compete now with books but I’ve never read a price-comparison. Books are, in fact, a phenomenal value for money; always have been, of course, but much more so now than before.
One of the more promising developments in what Lanham calls a “great age for the book trade” is print-on-demand, which means “special-interest books which cannot make it in the market can be sold at a profit on a print-on-demand basis.”
(Stay tuned for more on that subject from Blurb this fall.)
Always good to be reminded of the theory behind our bookmaking practice – thanks, professor.