When the Consumer is the Consumed

“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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:

Posted Under