Deep Word #33: Earning people’s attention online is hard, hard work. Except now it’s not.

QUOTE: Speaking from experience as someone who makes a living trying to sell my ideas to people: This is a powerfully addictive feeling! But here’s the reality of audiences in a social media era. Before these services existed, building an audience of any size beyond your immediate friends and family required hard, competitive work. In the early 2000s, for example, anyone could start a blog, but to gain even just a handful of unique visitors per month required that you actually put in the work to deliver information that’s valuable enough to capture someone’s attention. I know this difficulty well. My first blog was started in the fall of 2003. It was called, cleverly enough, Inspiring Moniker. I used it to muse on my life as a twenty-one-year-old college student. There were, I’m embarrassed to admit, long stretches where no one read it (a term I’m using literally). As I learned in the decade that followed, a period in which I patiently and painstakingly built an audience for my current blog, Study Hacks, from a handful of readers to hundreds of thousands per month, is that earning people’s attention online is hard, hard work. Except now it’s not. Part of what fueled social media’s rapid assent, I contend, is its ability to short-circuit this connection between the hard work of producing real value and the positive reward of having people pay attention to you. It has instead replaced this timeless capitalist exchange with a shallow collectivist alternative: I’ll pay attention to what you say if you pay attention to what I say—regardless of its value. A blog or magazine or television program that contained the content that typically populates a Facebook wall or Twitter feed, for example, would attract, on average, no audience. But when captured within the social conventions of these services, that same content will attract attention in the form of likes and comments. The implicit agreement motivating this behavior is that in return for receiving (for the most part, undeserved) attention from your friends and followers, you’ll return the favor by lavishing (similarly undeserved) attention on them. You “like” my status update and I’ll “like” yours. This agreement gives everyone a simulacrum of importance without requiring much effort in return.

Note: [ under construction! ]

What gets your attention?
What human needs or problems are addressed?
What questions do you have?
What solution or hope does it offer?

What does it say that we need to obey?
What would a camera see if this happened?
Who needs to hear this?
What are the actual steps that I would take?

SOURCE – Footnotes:

[1]  Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016),


This post, and others in this series, are based on the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), and as a group are a review of the important ideas and of the entire book. I was also privileged to take the online course Life of Focus Standard Edition [CN040]taught by Cal Newport and Scott Young and presented through, which enhanced my understanding of the subject which I am now applying to my own profession, the work of the local church pastor.

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Key: Deep_Word_#33  Last Revision: 10/06/2020

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