Week 6 – The Commons & Attention

This week’s blog will be on the ‘commons’, or more specifically, the collection, (re)distribution and assembling of attention. ‘Commons’ are collectively produced archives that create the possibility for interaction, such as sharing and market exchange, for users and publishers. The new technological and social digital commons have had severe implications on both publishing and knowledge production in the recent past, in the process assembling different kinds of attention from different kinds of publics and media.

O’Malley writes that attention is a human constant and we will naturally seek new forms, hence creating distraction. No information is useful without attention, whilst it can also be argued that one form of attention can be a distraction from something else! Now, we are able to form, break or maintain habits, both good and bad, from assemblages of attention and distraction, which often create media and social change amongst publishers and publics. In an increasingly technological world, attention is becoming scarce due to the variety of information sources and publishing forms available to users. It’s almost as if attention is now a form of currency, motivating publishers to grab our attention through their products! With this collation of information comes an economy of knowledge, that is able to collect, arrange and distribute information to help grab the consumer’s attention and help make our individual lives work. This is where the commons come in!

The Social Media Landscape - the 'commons' that allow us to share information through our own social networks!

The Social Media Landscape – the ‘commons’ that allow us to share information through our social networks!

Nicholas Hildyard writes that the ‘commons‘ are now an everyday reality that provides security and independence for its users, and are often defined through their social or cultural organisation rather than their physical location. Good and Bauwens state that the commons ‘is something that does not belong to anybody in particular, that belongs to the whole community, of participants, users, and sometimes to the whole world’. Commons law has evolved significantly, to the point where ideas are now seen as commodities, inverting traditional intellectual property law. Examples of these type of commons include Google, Facebook, iTunes, and, of course, Wikipedia. The internet is a prime example of the rising popularity of the commons, and how it has changed the structure of the archive media world today. Meretz writes that the global commons movement is an ‘assemblage of movements spread around the globe beginning to become aware of its global character’, and to some extent, this is true! Creative commons provide legal, open licensing that allows the distribution of copyrighted works, while P2P (peer-to-peer) processes have become a major part of the public sphere. These forms of commons, particularly P2P, have created open forums for users to interact with each other on a social and cultural level, changing the way publics are able to publish and who they are able to publish to! These P2P processes allow people to form a network that enables information to be collected, (re)distributed and assembled for another person’s interest or attention.

Obviously, there is another side to the commons, and that is piracy! Examples of these ethical conflict include the unauthorized sharing of music and movies. There is much debate over whether this access should be regulated, and if not, what effect these forms of black market commons will have on the publishing industry. Overall, the commons provides people with the ability to interact through a social network of users, and it is through these commons that we can also see the consequences of media sharing moulding our attention.


Hildyard, N., Lohmann, L., Sexton, S. & Fairlie, S. (1995) “Reclaiming the Commons”, The Corner House, <http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/resource/reclaiming-commons> [accessed 17 April 2013]

Meretz, S. (2010) “Ten Theses about Global Commons Movement”, P2P Foundation, <http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/ten-theses-about-global-commons-movement/2011/01/05> [accessed 17 April 2013]

O’Malley, M. (2010) “Attention and Information”, The Aporetic, <http://theaporetic.com/?p=228> [accessed 17 April 2013]

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