My Digital Garden

Attention is a Rivalrous Resource

Attention is a rivalrous resource

A rivalrous resource is one where consumption by one person reduces the availability of the resource for another consumer, either in-the-moment or over time.

The attention of an individual is such a rivalrous resource - if I take an action that consumes a person's attention then you cannot simultaneously consume their attention.

In such cases the un-managed and aggregated behaviour of many consumers can lead to a Tragedy of the Commons where the benefits to all are reduced.

Examples include:

  • the maintainer of an OSS project faced with many contributors or requests for help - over-consumption can lead to maintainer burnout and potential abandonment of the project to the detriment of all users
  • an individual who is in receipt of many different marketing emails all competing for attention - over-consumption can lead to extreme negative reactions such as blocking all such emails, to the detriment of all marketers who may wish to sell to that person

See also

  • Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software by Nadia Eghbal

    The production of open source code, however, functions more like a commons—meaning that it is non-excludable and rivalrous—where attention is the rivalrous resource. Maintainers can’t stop users from bidding for their attention, but their attention can be depleted.