People vs. Property in the attention economy.

Wednesday Jul 24th, 2019


The attention economy.

We currently live in the most attention-scarce market in history. This requires people who serve products and services to that market to adapt at an accelerating pace. Things follow this rule in a variety of industries, even ones that operate on longer cycles, including politics, as we've learned. 

The most epitomic illustration of this can be found in Netflix's documentary called "The Big Hack". When I look at this solely from the perspective of human adaptivity, it looks like one side of the competition was trying to adapt to the market. The other side was forcing the market to adapt to them. Instead of becoming a product of their environment, they chose to make their environment a product of them. The fact that one is capable of doing this is astounding.

Since it's literally my purpose to figure out how these external factors might affect real estate, I decided to think about this a little. 

Real estate is different.

Real estate seems to depend less on the attention economy, but it plays a major role in the distribution of attention. Real estate is a long-run problem, and it's geographically dependent. As it turns out, buildings are pretty difficult to move.  They're also difficult to build, but don't try telling that to 250 pre-sale condo buyers waiting for occupancy.

At a more macroeconomic level, municipalities compete for the attention of individuals and businesses who will bay them tax dollars. As a result, the demand for space within that municipality will increase, enticing investors to purchase land to house the people who want to exist in said place on earth.  

Real estate controls the distribution of attention.

Buildings are, essentially, a technology that we use to aggregate that attention into a physical space and subsequently apply it somewhere. Regardless of where your attention is, it has to be within you, and you have to be somewhere. The analysis of the attention economy creates a whole different stream of utility for property that we've honestly not considered until now. In many cases, the place you are in directs your attention towards the people you share that place with: 

  • your home is designed to direct your attention to your housemates, partner, or family;
  • your workplace is designed to aggregate the attention of many individuals to work together on a common goal;
  • social settings are designed for people to meet one another

There are also alternative scenarios in which the property can distribute our attention toward an emotion or a state of being:

  • an oceanfront all-inclusive resort is designed to help you unwind and disconnect from the world;
  • a spa is designed to help you reach a state of relaxation;
  • a workplace may be designed to put you in a state of energy, stimulation or connectedness;
  • a home is designed to make you feel safe and secure.

I've only really just started evaluating the implications of the function of real estate in the attention economy, so bear with my as my thoughts develop here. What I know is that Moore's Law of Real Estate exists. Everything happens because of a reason, not for a reason (sorry mom). Things are getting denser for a reason. Retail footprints are shrinking for a reason. People are occupying less space for a reason. Dining rooms are disappearing for a reason. These things are all function of human demand. To what degree does property adapt to us? What capability does real estate have to adapt? To what degree to we adapt to property? Frankly, humans have proven to be better at adapting. 

The big questions I have around these topics are how we can look at real estate as a technology to change the way we interact with one another and with the world. I'm interested in exploring the way the commoditization of human attention is affecting real estate, and how it may continue to do so:

  • which party should be adapting to meet the needs of the other, the property, or the human? 
  • what do the economics of adapting look like for people vs. property
  • how can we benefit the world by changing our behaviour toward property?
    • environmentally
    • economically
  • like social media, do buildings have the capability to train us to behave in a certain way?

Compounding my obsession with the concepts of desire lines and the principles outlined in how buildings learn, I expect this will be an interesting journey. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

- d 

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