“What you are aware of you are in control of; what you are not aware of is in control of you. You are always a slave to what you are not aware of. When you’re aware of it, you’re free from it. It’s there, but you’re not affected by it. You’re not controlled by it; you’re not enslaved by it.” ~ Anthony DeMello

When someone tells me that they have abandoned so-called mainstream media, I often envision a person who has pulled his boat to the shore of that proverbial stream to explore alternatives, only to be attacked by savages. But to make this analogy work, I would say that this contrarian news consumer is not aware that the newfound information sources are savages; and he is not immediately attacked. Instead there is an initial curiosity and charm about the savages; and so the consumer happily accepts an invitation to their village. As he consumes everything the savages offer, he thinks himself wiser for his discovery. However, the consumer grows fatter and lazier, unaware that the savages plan to eat him.

The consumer becomes the consumed.

As both a money manager and a freelance writer, I have the unenviable perspective of seeing the tactics of the savages; uh, I mean financial news sources, which is to steal for their own purposes the attention of the consumer. This also brings to mind a quote from the 20th century psychologist and economist, Herbert Simon, that I share with readers whenever I find the opportunity:

“… in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

When you pay attention, what is the price? If attention were currency, most human beings would be well below poverty level. The attention theft goes mostly undetected because many consumers that seek information are not aware that, in actuality, it is the source of information that is the seeker, as well as a consumer, albeit higher in the food chain. The unaware hunter will eventually become the hunted.

So how do financial media (and almost all media for that matter) hunt their prey? It all begins with the headline:

  • Ask a question that provokes anxiety: “Crash of 1929 Repeat?”
  • Ask a question that piques curiosity: “Is this the greatest American-made product, ever?”
  • Be divisive and political: “Gingrich Calls Kerry ‘Delusional’ On Climate”
  • Provide a list: “10 IRS Audit Red Flags”
  • Incite the ego: “10 Weapons Wall Street Uses to Manipulate You”
  • Imply “the pros” are making moves you should consider: “Soros Doubles a Bearish Bet on the S&P”

Note: All of the above are actual headlines I quickly found yesterday on a small handful of financial media sites but I intentionally omitted hyper-links to the content because I did not want to ironically distract from the idea that your attention is constantly at risk of being consumed.

It is not just the so-called mainstream media that is the enemy of the thinking person. Any source of information that exists to sell advertising accomplishes its end by means of stealing attention. Therefore its purpose is not to serve the end user, period. Furthermore, there is a proliferation of amateurism in recent years: knowledge and expertise of financial services and products is not necessary to write about them. All that is required is the ability to steal attention, to get that first click on the headline. Once you have arrived at the article or post, the strategy is to keep you there another 10 seconds and then perhaps click on a few other links… mission accomplished.

The primary point being made here is that your attention may be the greatest resource you have. Without it, your capacity for good judgment is impaired. To maintain ownership of this resource you must have sufficient awareness of the tactics being used to take it from you. With this awareness, information can become a tool to serve whatever purpose you have for it. If not, it is you that is the tool.

To help our fellow readers, what information sources do you believe are some of the most notorious attention thefts? And which sources do you believe are best at providing useful information that is high on facts and low on spin?

Kent Thune is the blog author of The Financial Philosopher. You can follow Kent on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

Category: Philosophy, Psychology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

8 Responses to “When the Consumer is the Consumed”

  1. DeDude says:

    Excellent post. Facebook and Twitter would be most notorious attention thieves.

  2. rj chicago says:

    “You are always a slave to what you are not aware of. When you’re aware of it, you’re free from it.”

    Made me think of Paul’s letter to the Romans……

    Romans 6:16
    Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

    Romans 6:19
    I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.

    Romans 6:20
    When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.

  3. Kent Thune says:

    Good points, DeDude and rj Chicago. The awareness of illusion is its end. Yes, people are slaves to their ignorance. With that said, there are also people who are aware of illusion but prefer to stay in it.

    Thanks for commenting…

    • rj chicago says:

      You are welcome – it seems that we are in a time where ETERNAL truth applies – as it always has – just amped up more these days as the craziness we experience increases by large increments day by day.
      Agree that the awareness of illusion is at its ultimate end.

    • tagyoureit says:

      It is very difficult to discern illusion from reality (my own failures as evidence, it’s a timeless, human problem), and as illustrated, one is a ‘slave’ in either case. Or perhaps THAT IS the illusion? Slavery to righteousness promises eternal life, for are we not slaves to mortality otherwise?

      The void awaits…

  4. rd says:

    I avoid video on the net like the plague. It is slow to initialize, usually starts with an ad, and takes much longer to watch than to read the same content with little ability to skim or fast forward, since it isn’t well-buffered. Obviously some sports clips need to be seen as video, but that is about it.

    The same thing holds for web-based training. The speakers are usually just reading what is written on the screen. I can do the training session in one-third the time reading it than listening to it.

    Some websites (like Business Insider) take a long time to load its pages, so I usually avoid those as well. At least they offer the “View as single page” option for their links. I close slideshows very quickly once I realize you can’t view them as a single page.

  5. Init4good says:

    LOL, I love it.

    ” Any source of information that exists to sell advertising accomplishes its end by means of stealing attention. Therefore its purpose is not to serve the end user, period.”

    Therefore ANY commercial source of information is not to serve the end user. (present company excepted of course.)

  6. This is an excellent article, which I’m going to be paraphrasing for years to come when talking to friends, family and coworkers.

    But I would strongly disagree with the introduction’s implication that alternative-media “savages” are somehow more predatory than the mainstream media, when it comes to consuming our attention for their profit. The heart of the article indicts all media sources for the same reasons: their profit motives are not well-aligned with our best interests.

    But you know, where demand exists, supply will be created. The marketplace is filled with horrible products which nevertheless satisfy real demands, because demand is not driven by what is good for us, but by what human nature leads us to want.

    Still, I hope there are entrepreneurs who figure out a better way to deliver information, at least to the wiser customers who do not want their time wasted either by advertising itself or the biases which advertising revenue instills in the media.