Can I Have Your Attention?

Sleepwalk With Me

Aspiring stand-up comedian Matt Pandamiglio trying to build an audience in the 2012 film Sleepwalk With Me (Dir. Birbiglia)

Last Wednesday I attended the Creative Niche project greenhouse talent session #PGdigital13 over on Spadina Avenue in the heart of Toronto. The evening panel included Topher Bullock, Michael Carrick, Jason Cliff, and was moderated by Lindsay Munro. The subject up for discussion:

Challenges and opportunities facing digital and mobile professionals in the year ahead.”

“As the digital revolution continues to gain momentum, major brands are increasing their budgets for digital and mobile like never before. Of course, with each new project companies are demanding increasingly innovative technology solutions, not to mention cutting-edge concepts. This intense pressure is forcing digital and mobile professionals to work harder than ever to stay a step ahead of emerging trends, master new technology and fine-tune their skills.

Well now, that’s a really interesting topic. Let’s dig deeper.

From my perspective the digital industry is constantly evolving and moving forward with innovative forms of communication and commerce, and that’s partially what makes it such an amazing industry to work in. New technologies and platforms; new devices and monetization strategies showing up all the time. That’s pretty much a given.
Not surprisingly, much of the #PGdigital13 evening discussion focused on the techno-app-widget side of the digital economy. For instance, the latest trends in mobile development (e.g. HTML5, responsive design) and social media metrics; clients seeking ROI for their digital brands/campaigns; productivity and collaboration services; the latest automation tools for content publishing and analytics.
Yeah, yeah, these are all great discussion points, and I’ll be the first to admit the Web is inextricably connected to technology and gadgets. But what about the other side of the equation? How are we using these technologies, gadgets and so forth?

As time goes on I feel I’m becoming less interested in the tools and technologies themselves and more interested in how people interact with one another and experience things in the digital space. Eventually our tools and technologies will recede into the background and become largely invisible. I believe Michael Carrick brought this concept forth during our discussions. I’d like to think when technology finally does become invisible, our lives will be transformed for the better. I often think about how the best UIs are the ones that get out of the way and allow people to accomplish their goals. In fact, the so-called flat UI design movement taking place now, I believe, is a precursor to digital world without graphical user interfaces. One characterized by a less intrusive presence of hardware and software into our daily lives. One day you’ll tell your grandchildren how we used to stare at animated preloader graphics and silly skeuomorphic visual references to physical objects on pixel-based screens.

But right now, if you ask me, one of the biggest challenges facing every cloud-based tech start-up, digital marketer, and app developer, is capturing and maintaining an audience.

So here was my question posed to the panel:

“As the media landscape continues to fragment with more channels appearing on the horizon vying for our attention, the digital space must contend with smaller audiences and shorter attention spans despite more time spent with media. What strategies can we leverage to increase audience engagement with so many choices available?”

Perhaps not an easy question to answer. I certainly didn’t have a good response, and I’m afraid none of the panel really did either, with the exception of Lindsay Munro who touched on the idea creating good, useful content as a path to fostering meaningful audience engagement.
I agree, wholeheartedly.

At the same time, I will say this: attention is becoming the new scarcity —actually many other people have been saying this for years. Ironically I’ll suggest you go and Google it if you want to find out more about how the Web is shrinking our attention span.

The Web has complicated and permeated every aspect of our lives. There’s so much now available to us—much of it garbage cluttering our senses. I can’t remember a time when information wasn’t instantaneously accessible —can you?