Show an ad over header. AMP

After Trump, the attention economy deflates

Politicians, celebrities and business leaders are trying to adapt to a new world beyond the attention inflation of the Trump era — one where the volume of attention-getting statements and actions has dropped and the value and impact of individual events may rise.

Why it matters: DonaldTrump used social media to provoke and distract Americans around the clock, rewiring the country's nervous system and diminishing the value of each individual news cycle. Now we're going to learn whether our fried collective circuits can recover.

By the numbers: Over the first two weeks of February, there were an estimated 13.8 million social media posts about PresidentBiden, according to data from Keyhole.

  • That's roughly an eighth of the 104 million posts about Trump over the first two weeks of January.

The big picture: Actors on the national stage are choosing from two different approaches in this new world.

Some are using time-tested, Trump-like tactics to fill the post-Trump void.

  • Trump-supporting officeholders — among them Sen. Josh Hawley and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — have commandeered news cycles by promoting unsupported claims of election fraud or amping up rhetoric against "socialist" Democrats.
  • Elon Musk's social-media antics — pumping up cryptocurrencies, inviting Vladimir Putin for a chat on Clubhouse, sitting for three-hour podcast interviews — show the same game can be played in business and tech.
  • They're betting that, even with Trump off stage, the information-overload dynamics he exploited will continue to shape U.S. society.

Others are aiming to reset public-square norms, believing that a pandemic-exhausted public yearns for simpler, straighter talk at lower volume.

  • Most prominent in this camp is the incoming Biden administration, whose approach to shaping the public conversation couldn't be more different from Trump's impulsive show.
  • Biden's announcements emerge in a planned, orderly way. He unveils appointments after serious deliberations, not at the drop of a tweet. His policies arrive with details fleshed out.
  • This communications style may offer reassurance to Americans whose adrenaline glands need a rest. It also, of course, runs the risk of boring people.

Team Biden isn't the only force trying to downshift the public conversation.

  • Facebook's determination to down-rank political topics in users' news feeds shares the goal of easing Americans out of their Trump-era overdrive.
  • The new wave of subscription-based newsletter and podcast enterprises aims to put media creation on a less fickle footing, funded by longer-term commitments from readers rather than volume-driven ad revenue.
  • Yes, but: Media businesses and individual creators thrived in the information environment Trump shaped, and the more we break free of it, the more they will struggle to make money and seize mind-share.

Flashback: The concept of the "attention economy" dates back to Herbert Simon's 1970s writings and was popularized with the rise of the web in the '90s and the research of Michael Goldhaber.

  • But economics is only one lens for understanding how attention works today; sociology and anthropology, psychology and neuroscience, network theory and data science all offer insights, too.

The bottom line: Until now, from the mass-media era to the social-media age, the attention economy has moved only in one direction, towards speed and ubiquity. Anyone who thinks it can be shifted into reverse — that attention deflation can last — is betting against a century-long trend.

Senate Democrats reach deal on extending unemployment insurance

Senate Democrats struck a deal Friday evening on extending unemployment insurance in the President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package after deliberating for most of the day, per a Senate aide.

Why it matters: The deal allows Congress to move forward with voting on amendments to the bill, though it caused a massive delay in the 20-hour debate over the legislation.

Keep reading... Show less

Capitol review panel recommends boosting security with more police, mobile fencing

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Keep reading... Show less

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.

Keep reading... Show less

Chamber of Commerce decides against widespread political ban following Capitol insurrection

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealed Friday it won't withhold political donations from lawmakers who simply voted against certifying the presidential election results and instead decide on a case-by-case basis.

Why it matters: The Chamber is the marquee entity representing businesses and their interests in Washington. Its memo, obtained exclusively by Axios, could set the tone for businesses debating how to handle their candidate and PAC spending following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: CDC lets child migrant shelters fill to 100% despite COVID concern

The Centers for Disease Control is allowing shelters handling child migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border to expand to full capacity, abandoning a requirement they stay near 50% to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The fact the country's premier health advisory agency is permitting a change in COVID-19 protocols indicates the scale of the immigration crisis. A draft memo obtained by Axios conceded "facilities should plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases."

Keep reading... Show less

8 Senate Democrats vote against adding $15 minimum wage amendment to COVID relief

Eight Democratic senators on Friday voted against Sen. Bernie Sanders' amendment to ignore a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian and add a $15 minimum wage provision to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

The state of play: The vote was held open for hours on Friday afternoon — even after every senator had voted — due to a standoff in negotiations over the next amendments that the Senate is set to take up.

Keep reading... Show less

CDC: Easing mask mandates, re-opening restaurants led to higher COVID cases, deaths

Easing mask restrictions and on-site dining have increased COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to a study out Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: The report's findings converge with actions from governors this week easing mask mandates and announcing plans to reopen nonessential businesses like restaurants.

Keep reading... Show less

Exclusive: GOP Leader McCarthy asks to meet with Biden about the border

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has requested a meeting with President Biden to discuss the rising numbers of unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border, in a letter sent on Friday.

Why it matters: Biden is facing criticism from the right and the left as agency actions and media reports reveal spiking numbers of migrant children overwhelming parts of the U.S. immigration system. Recent data shows an average of 321 kids being referred to migrant shelters each day, as Axios reported.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories