President Biden and the attention-deficit

As President Joe Biden now takes on the presidency he is facing a lot of substantive challenges, but he also faces an interesting stylistic one – and that is how he communicates. We seem to be back to press-briefings and less of the tweeting that the former president excelled in until his account was banned. That has been hailed as a relief, but there is a problem with that view: how much attention will the US and the world pay to president Biden compared to the enormous amount of attention paid to his predecessor?

The way we pay attention shapes our context, society and futures.

Think about it. How many hours will the average US-citizen spend thinking about Biden in a week, vs how many was spent thinking about the 45th president? How much of the media mindshare will Biden be able to own? Is there not a chance / risk that Biden gets but a fraction of the attention?

Why, then, is this interesting? For at least two reasons.

First, the mission of unifying the country is one that requires that citizens pay sustained attention to really developing their democracy and participating in it – something that will be hard if attention is paid to other things and led away from politics.

Second, the attention gap that emerges may well be filled with new politicians that adopt the former president’s attention strategies, seeking conflict and outrage as means to build mindshare and absorb all the attention that is suddenly up for grabs.

It may well be that the new administration’s most important task is to build an attention strategy – outlining how they aim to elicit and use citizen attention constructively, and that may mean that they have to adopt communication strategies that can be as engaging as those of conflict and outrage – or the new administration will just be a pause in which something else will eat all of the left-over attention and grow over time.

The midterms will, as always, provide more data on the way the political attention patterns are changing, used and developed by different politicians.

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