Saturday, February 1, 2020

Stand Out of Our Light #1

Stand Out of Our Light is a book by James Williams. I enjoyed reading it, and it's short, only 130 pages.

It's about freedom and resistance in the attention economy, in which the Internet and smartphones are used to grab and keep our attention. The author used to work for Google but has since become a teacher of philosophy at University of Oxford. The title is derived from an amusing story told in Chapter 1 about the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes. He sometimes walked in the daylight carrying a lantern. When people asked him why, he replied, "I'm looking for an honest man." (That's not the amusing story.)

The author prefers to call the current era the "Age of Attention" rather than the more common  Information Age. The abundance of information easily accessed puts demands on our attention. The new technologies, the Internet and smartphones, challenge self-regulation. The design of technology embodies certain goals and values, and thus shapes the world we experience. The cyber- in "cybernetics" and the gover- in "government" both stem from the same Greek root: kyber-, "to steer or to guide" (p. 27).

In the twentieth century the modern advertising industry matured and began systematically applying new knowledge about human psychology and decision making. Advertising scope extended beyond providing information to include shaping behavior and attitudes. The goals and metrics of advertising became the dominant ones in the design of digital services. Google, Twitter, and Facebook are at core advertising companies. [Advertising is their dominant source of revenue.] Initially "cookies" were created to enable "shopping carts." Now they follow us as we navigate on our devices.

Chapters 7-9 of the book are organized by three metaphors.
- The "Spotlight" - Our immediate capacities for navigating awareness and action toward tasks. Enables us to do what we want to do.
- The "Starlight" - Our broader capacities for navigating life "by the stars" of our higher goals and values. Enables us to be what we want to be.
- The "Daylight" - Our fundamental capacities -- such as reflection, metacognition, reason, and intelligence -- that enable us to define our goals and values to begin with. Enables us to "want what we want to want."
These "lights" of attention pertain to doing, being, and knowing (p.49).

1 comment:

  1. Age of Attention indeed. The volitional switch at the base of it provides a plausible basis for it being an Age of Guilt as well. Thanks for helping to further illuminate it.