Attention is one of the most precious resources we can ever have

Because we know time is finite and there is so much attention we can give. It is amazing to think about how Google and Content Advertising Networks can monetize this. They let businesses go crazy by bidding up keywords to capture end-user attention. And by using an auctioning system, the sky is the limit and they can capture the maximum propensity businesses is willing to pay.

How much is your attention worth? From your perspective, you might think it is little. But businesses are willing to pay $1 to $100s to get you to click through their ads. 

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister in Singapore’s cabinet said in his piece - 'natural workings of society or the market, which on their own tend to amplify initial disadvantages and advantages' (

By having a completely free market mechanism, it crowds out the ability of new and deserving entrants to compete and this will further amplify the power of the entrenched. Yes, Google and their new policy of ending 3rd party cookies - this is going to render many Ad Tech players who rely on 3rd party cookies tracking obsolete.

Take Grab rides, for example, one might argue transportation is public infrastructure because it utilizes public roads. If prices were to go skyrocket on peak hours without a regulatory cap on prices, like the case of Didi Dache (滴滴打车), this will restrict access to transport to the less well-heeled and denying them of this essential infrastructure.

Similarly, people jostle for attention for signalling reasons. This is why we see the rise of ostentatious goods, the more scarce a product is, the more people want it. This is how some high-end designer bags are marketed, you want it to be high priced and also scarce.

Because the consumption goes beyond a utility need but a signalling need. Bubble tea shops in Singapore for example - people tend to buy because there is a queue for it. Remember the first KOI shop or the first Tiger Sugar, people went crazy queuing for it. When subsequent outlets started popping up, the queue died down. This is why FOMO works where there is a competitive bidding mechanism in place (stock bubbles, startup fundraising, last-minute flights and hotels).

Similarly, this trend may well contribute to the rise of consumer social apps and mobile games - i.e. Instagram, TikTok. People are willing to pay up for signalling reasons. I read a piece and the verbatim et of it is how is hard to sell B2B software in a mentioned country because the users there would rather pirate a version of it. On the other hand, these same users are very willing to splurge on consumer apps. One first principled way of thinking how to break into such a consumer-driven market is to offer an auction-based mechanism for users to signal status - and that's what the companies there are doing - games with premium avatars, pay-to-win, gamification of live streaming etc.

- Editor