Attention is Shifting

One of the more understated but significant changes of the pandemic is that attention models have changed.

For example, there's no commute. We're staying inside our homes. There's no access to childcare services. We're fatigued from being on Zoom calls all day.

The challenge is that a lot of the software and tools assume a different model of attention, and that is going to need to change.  Most existing productivity and social software (Twitter, Facebook, Slack) assume that keeping people connected 24/7 is advantageous.  In the early days, that was certainly the case.  But that's changed as virtually all of our social and professional interactions are online.

At some point, it starts to feel like we're locked in a casino.

The gaming industry figured this out early on, and there's a well-understood pattern of placing constraints on daily usage so that people will remain engaged over the long term.  It's the difference between snacking and binging.

The same will need to happen for both productivity, education and social software.  Right now, for a variety of reasons, experiences like Slack are the default.  But that's going to need to change because we're already seeing it lead to the level of fatigue that those in the gaming industry witnessed, which is going to result in people burning out.

The seemingly conflicting challenge is that by virtue of the pandemic, we're all effectively shut-ins, and so there's a desire to connect with people, hence a willingness to default to high-engagement models like real-time chat or video conferencing.

Over time, the solutions that will be scale will probably look more like their analogs in gaming: appropriate, constrained use of notifications, placing limits for the user in terms of how much attention people are spending in the app, and optimizing for longer-term engagement.  The best analogy for this might be something more akin to a weekly or monthly magazine.