Accelerating Dynamics of Collective Attention

Friday, March 1, 2019

12.00 p.m.

ISI seminar room 1st floor

Dr. Philipp Lorenz-Spreen - Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin

With news pushed to smartphones in real time and social media reactions spreading across the globe in seconds, the public discussion can appear accelerated and temporally fragmented. Described as part of a more general development termed `social acceleration', the impact of technological changes on the social sphere has more recently been discussed within sociology. So far, the phenomenon lacks a strong empirical foundation. Here we focus on one dimension of social acceleration, the increasing rates of change within 'collective attention'.
Our data sources cover multiple decades, as in Google Books (100 years) and movie ticket sales (40 years). For the recent past, online media enable analysis with higher temporal granularity through Twitter (2013-2016), Google Trends (2010-2018) and Reddit (2010-2015). Across the different domains under investigation, we find clear empirical evidence of ever steeper gradients and shorter intervals of collective attention given to each cultural item.
Using a minimal model, describing the modern attention economy via Lotka-Volterra equations with distributed delay, we can reproduce the empirical findings surprisingly well. Our analysis of the model's parameters suggests increasing rates of content production and consumprion as the most important driving force for the accelerating dynamics of collective attention. The resulting picture is an attention economy, where the increasing abundance of information combined with the cognitive limitations and time constraints of users, leads to a redistribution of the available resources across time towards more rapid changes and higher frequencies.

Philipp is a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin , where he is currently working on the effects that modern information systems have on human behavior. Before that he received his PhD in physics from the TU Berlin on empirical methods and theoretical models for the description of large scale dynamics of collective attention from online datasets. At the LMU in Munich he studied physics with a special focus on system-biophysics.