The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

Author: Tim Wu
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Comments

by vonnik   2017-10-09
This excellent article fails to mention artificial intelligence. Facebook has recruited one of the world’s top AI teams, led by Yann LeCun. Their work and Google's are the equivalent of tobacco companies engineering cigarettes to ensure that nicotine hits a smoker's brain more quickly. Facebook and other social networks are the cigarette companies of the mind. Cigarettes blackened our lungs with tar, and social media blacken our brains with distraction, alienation, envy, and loneliness.

Social media networks will become ever more addictive, and by using AI to increase the click-through rate on the ads, they will squeeze ever more money out of their addicts. AI will be essential to the "capture and sale of attention," as Tim Wu puts it, walking users from curiosity to the cash register more and more efficiently.[0]

Lewis is right to focus on addiction. Especially because behavioral addictions are easier to ignore than addictions to substances slung on street corners. But they amount to the same thing: you want something, but you don't want to want it, and being unable to resist it, you sabotage your own life. Addictions turn our brains against us.

In a prescient 2010 essay, PG warned of the acceleration of online addictions, and the lag between the introduction of an addictive product and society's response to it.[1]

Capitalism is an accelerant for addictive behavior, and we are only just realizing how unhappy people become as a result of the marketplace’s newest and most insidious products. What's worse, the necessary functions performed by our phones and the Internet are fatefully tangled with the apps that addict us. They put the heroin next to the tap water.

For anyone interested in a fictional account of American society as a tapestry of addictions, Infinite Jest will change the way you think. It's all about that buzz.[2]

Full disclosure: I prompted Paul Lewis to write this piece.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Attention-Merchants-Scramble-Inside-H...

[1]https://www.amazon.com/Infinite-Jest-David-Foster-Wallace-eb...

by nicklaf   2017-08-19
In my experience, the trick is to accumulate lists of books, links, people, and other potential interests, etc., and dip into them whenever you aren't preoccupied (in lieu of checking what the Attention Merchents want you to [1]) to get your mind going, not forcing yourself on any particular one, and over time you end up using a lot of free moments to continuously ponder the small bits you glimpsed, until one day it strikes you that one particular book is so obviously worth your time that you devour it. (The process is sort of like an avalanche.)

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Attention-Merchants-Scramble-Inside-H...