Monday, February 3, 2020

Stand Out of Our Light #2

The last four chapters of Stand Out of Our Light concern our freedom of attention.

Chapter 10. Rejecting attentional serfdom may be the defining moral and political task of our times. To date, the problems of "distraction" have been minimized or minor annoyances. Yet the competition for attention and the "persuasion" of users ultimately amounts to a project of the manipulation of the will. Since the inception of modern advertising we have seen it continually seek not only to fulfill existing desires, but also to generate new ones, not only to meet people's needs and demands, but to produce more where none previously existed.

Chapter 11. Pitfalls are sidestepped and misconceptions are cleared. There are things we should avoid doing in response to the challenges of the attention economy. We must be vigilant of slipping into an overly moralistic mode. Metaphors of food, alcohol, or drugs can be signals of such over-moralizing. We shouldn't wholly rely on self-regulation by the advertisers or their platforms to solve all problems. Ultimately, there is no one to blame. At "fault" are more often the emerging dynamics of complex systems rather than the decision-making of a few individuals.

Chapter 12. Visions of rebellion and reform. A hand-drawn map to a place no one has ever been. In digital media, advertising rules. It has moved from "underwriting" the content to "overwriting" it. In advertising parlance, "remnant inventory" refers to a publisher's leftover space, which it can sell at very low prices. [This might refer to the many ads that appear below articles on my smartphone.] In the European Union, website owners must obtain consent from each user whose browsing behavior they wish to track with "cookies." [Here in the USA I have seen a flurry of these consent requests lately.]

Chapter 13. The music swells and the rocket hits. A new light appears in the sky. Rejecting the present regime of attentional serfdom requires rejecting the idea we are powerless. It means rejecting novelty for novelty's sake and disruption for disruption's sake. The right sort of redesign hasn't arrived yet, but it has begun. The degree to which we are able and willing to struggle for ownership of our attention is the degree to which we are free.

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