Pay attention now. What will the Internet look like in 2016?

Yesterday's online WSJ ran a great exchange/conversation between Vint Cerf and Esther Dyson on the identity of the Internet in ten years time. Cerf, employed as Google's "chief evangelist", comes across with the other-worldliness of a Silicon Valley utopian. But Dyson, now editor at large at CNET Networks and editor of its quarterly newsletter Release 1.0, is much more thoughtfully ambivalent about the digital future.

I particularly enjoyed Dyson's development of Michael Goldhaber's "attention economy" concept. She says that the Internet is truly an after TV media:

"TV makes people want attention; the Net enables them to get it."

Her point is that attention has "its own intrinsic value." The Web is about self-publicity, proving one's self-worth, being a media star:

"People go on the Web in search of attention; they don't want to give it as much as get it. People judge their own worth by their number of friends (Friendster) or fans (MySpace) or business contacts (LinkedIn). They may tell you that they're seeking business success, but oftentimes they seem to value contact lists in the thousands for their own sake."

Dyson says that the Internet in 2016 will come to reflect our hunger for attention. It will be electronic proof of our existence. To misquote Descartes, "I can be googled, therefore I am." The future of media, therefore, for Dyson, is partly a Darwinian struggle to rank higher than others, and partly an existential struggle to prove one's own identity. This vision is not dissimilar to my own theory of digital narcissism.

I will follow up on Esther Dyson's ideas about this culture of attention, both in my book and on afterTV, where Dyson will be interviewed in late May.