Think Forward 2024: Attention Layering


Yesterday, we held a LinkedIn Live to discuss Attention Layering – the first trend of our recently released report, Think Forward: The Social Reckoning. Having reached peak stimulus, content is finding more nuanced ways to hold people’s focus – to hear more about the trend, click here to watch Mira Kopolovic, Global Director of Cultural Insights, and Gabe Noble, Associate Cultural Research & Insights Director, discuss the meaning of Attention Layering, and its significance in shaping social in 2024.

In January 2023, the world was introduced to a deeply chaotic new content format. On a hyper-stimulating bundle of screens, three videos play simultaneously: a clip from a TV show, a video game recording, and satisfying ASMR footage of sand being scooped, all frankensteined together. This cacophony of image and sound, painful for older viewers to watch, was ‘sludge content’ – and to many younger TikTok natives, it was old news. 

Across the internet, moral panic ensued: Millennials felt old, Boomers felt scandalised, and Gens Z and Alpha… presumably didn’t look up from their many, many screens. 

Unlike its predecessors in overstimulation – the TikToks chopping feature-length films into snackable clips; the creators using a dizzying number of jump cuts – sludge content marked a perspective shift. As creators, brands, and the general public pondered how to captivate a generation whose viewership style had become totally alien, this triple-screened content put things into stark focus: if holding attention stays a game of one-upmanship, where do we go from here? Tens, hundreds, thousands of screens?

Rather than ramping things up, digital culture is taking a different tack. In an overstimulating content landscape, users, creators, and culture-leading brands are toying with other modes of bringing people in – ones that turn away from hyper-stimulation. From content that’s weirdly absorbing in its focus on grounded, ‘human’ scenes, to that which soothes instead of stimulates, or even entertainment that acts more like a background environment than a central focus, the most emergent entertainment is guiding viewers back to relaxed modes of focus.

The behavourial change

The ‘attention economy’ is shifting to the ‘immersion economy’. 

Instead of assaulting people’s attention, creators are helping people focus. This is done through soothing content that minimises sensory overload, like Roku City’s lo-fi looping animation, or low-intervention content that plays on human psychology to help people zone in.

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Glimpses of the ‘real’ or ‘human’ are standing out.

In an over-stimulating, high production value, narratively gripping feed, there’s a fascination with content that, by contrast, focuses on the deeply average, grounded, ‘human’. There’s the viral Wes Anderson aesthetic, which uses the director’s signature style to make everyday scenes – lunch, train rides, uneventful wanders – into an artful visual experience. There’s also Keep the Meter Running – comedian Kareem Rahma’s TikTok series in which he hails NYC cabs and tells cabbies to take him anywhere, purely to spend time with the drivers.

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Gen Z is going deep into subjects they’re passionate about with hyper attention.

It’s not all short attention spans and hyper edits for Gen Z. The rise in popularity of the video essay, which can run for over an hour, indicates a desire for in-depth and entertaining learning. This hyper attention or slow knowledge consumption, overlaid with memes and TikTok references, popular in geek culture leans into creativity and critical (deep) thinking. Popular creators like ContraPoints and Mina Le highlight the demand for engaging, long-form content.

Read more about Attention Layering and the four other trends in Think Forward: The Social Reckoning.