10/10/2017 – The Attention Merchants (continued)

We continue this week reading Tim Wu’s book The Attention Merchants (chapters 10-19). Please post your comment about this week’s reading here before 5pm on Tuesday, October 10th.

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19 responses to “10/10/2017 – The Attention Merchants (continued)

  1. Caroline Cin-kay Ho

    I disagree with Wu’s claim that television “insulate[d] the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities” of the world (143). According to him, television’s “deep embrace of advertising had resulted in… anything too downbeat, dark, or challenging… being systematically suppressed,” unlike “radio, [which] at its best had forced Americans to confront the horrors of Europe” (142). First, TV’s “embrace of advertising” need not have prevented darker content from being propagated – consider The New York Herald, which specialized “in the coverage of violent death” and yet profited heavily from advertising revenue as a result of its wide readership (15). Secondly, while Wu might discuss this elsewhere, intuitively, the comparison to radio is quite curious, as one might reasonably believe that the added visual element of television would have created a more visceral response to challenging content in viewers. Consider, for example, television coverage of the Vietnam War. According to Chester Pach, “Vietnam was the first war during which a majority of Americans relied on television as their main source of news. In the mid-1960s, most people considered TV ‘more believable’ than newspapers, probably because… it could transmit experience.” The fact that people thought TV to be ‘more believable’ is telling – it suggests that people would have likely felt more insulated from the harsh realities of war when listening to radio than when watching television. Indeed, the dark content of the coverage powerfully grabbed the attention of viewers – it “brought the Tet offensive ‘with all its horrors’ into American living rooms in shocking and sensational ways” (Pach). Ultimately, far from serving as a “buffer” (142), television too at its best broke down barriers between the general public and happenings in the outside world.

    Pach article (“Lyndon Johnson’s Living Room War”): https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/30/opinion/lyndon-johnson-vietnam-war.html

  2. First mentioned in discussion of our “check-in” habits, Wu suggests that behaviorist B.F. Skinner’s work on conditioning may be able to shed light on some behaviors observed between attention-grabbing media and the people who consume it, even if such phenomena may not be wholly accounted for by the behaviorist framework. (186) In particular, I would like to introduce the Rescorla-Wagner model of classical conditioning as a device for at least shedding some metaphorical light on some of the large-scale behaviors described by Wu regarding our consumption of media. Wu mentions in his discussion of behaviorism and email check-ins that the unpredictability of receiving “worth-while” emails emboldens our email checking behaviors, much in the same way that people can become entranced with black-jack and roulette. Likewise, one phenomena that the Rescorla-Wagner model predicts is what is called “the blocking affect,” in which a conditioned agent eventually begins to stop responding as strongly to some rewarding stimuli, as the connection between reward and stimulus becomes learned. I found further examples throughout the text of something akin to an intuition of this blocking phenomena occurring with the proliferation of new attention grabbing media. In particular, avoidance of “blocking” seemed to be achieved by video-game developers by optimizing game difficulty to keep customers stimulated but not rewarded too frequently (194). Additionally, the creators of People seemed to realize that there existed a proper balance of salaciousness in their stories (219). I theorize that salaciousness might act as a rewarding stimuli that can be overdone to the point that attention is lost. While Rescorla-Wagner model might be a useful metaphor, one should consider that even in isolated lab conditions with animal subjects, it failed to account for all exhibited behaviors.

  3. tamara2205

    Throughout the recent chapters, Wu points out what he believes to be the most detrimental shortcomings of television. Having considered his main arguments, I have come to believe that a different medium may not only have the potential to replace some uses of television, but may also provide society many benefits in doing so: virtual reality.
    On a number of occasions, Wu condemns television for “increasing conformity” (159) and being “highly dependent on content programming” influenced by a powerful few seeking to increase profit (163). In addition, he berates TV for capitalizing on our “short-term attention” and not enough on its “voluntary, sustained” counterpart, which he believes is detrimental to human happiness (125). Wu argues, however, that for something to truly surpass television it would have to offer either “something more compelling than the competition” or something completely different that people desire (135). By letting us experience emotions that our immediate reality or mere screen-viewing could never allow us to, VR seems to be able to do both. By enabling everyone to customize the content they immerse themselves in, VR could eliminate conformity and emphasize individual agency in choosing what we immerse ourselves in, especially when it comes to entertainment. Finally, with its opportunities for prolonged immersion and still unaffected by the short-term distractions of attention merchants, VR experiences could simultaneously engage both the long and short-term attention that Wu finds necessary for sustaining happiness.
    Still in its early experimental period, nobody knows just what niche VR will fill. We can, however, take on an optimistic stance towards its potential before the attention merchants do and secure an opportunity for everyone to encounter diverse experiences and entertainment, devoid of the propaganda.

  4. rhwang2

    In this segment of the book, Wu continues on an important theme that makes me much more skeptical of attempts to curb the “the attention economy.” In particular, attention merchants in general seem to proceed on a continual march towards a more widespread and stronger grasp on our attention. As the author puts it, there are two ways to win the contest for attention. One is to outcompete the incumbents in how captivating the content is. The other is to expand to previously unoccupied territory be it new mediums or untapped times of the day. Regardless of the approach, the overall race to direct our attention becomes more competitive and the effects on us more significant. This can be seen through the expansion of viewing time on television, the innovation of more captivating content on the Internet and television, as well as the development of new mediums of content.
    It seems from the history laid out so far that the pace of this innovation is continually outpacing potentially regulating forces be it legislation or consumer push back. Despite the innovations of the remote control or even ad blocker, these economically interested parties seem to find a way to encroach even further. Like many industry/regulator relationships, the regulator seems to always be playing catch up. In fact, it seems that relatively few people even consider the expansion of the attention economy to be an issue. Thus, I question whether it is realistic to expect long term positive progress against the reach of the attention economy.

  5. Wu continues to likens our affinity for ads and celebrities to religion, describing our need to check our Inboxes as ritualistic (205) and our admiration of celebrities as spiritual (236). I would push back on this claim that our interactions with technology are somehow rooted in religion, for if we were to describe every routine activity as a ritual, brushing my teeth would now be a ritual. It reminds me of the essay “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” – Nacirema is American backward – which describes everyday American life in a way that makes Americans seem alien. This begs the question: at what point does the way Wu likens technology to religion become too forced? He may be losing the forest for the trees by neglecting the contextual reality of technology that makes checking my email disparate from religion. Just because today’s population might seem less religiously devout than previous generations, this does not mean necessarily that we are swapping religious idols for American Idol. Though technologies and celebrities might use similar methods as religion has in the past to gain attention, I would argue that technology and celebrity have different overall cultural significance than religion did. I agree with Wu that Oprah used her celebrity to build an almost religious-type following (230), but there are plenty of celebrities, like the Kardashians, who do not preach as much about spirituality. The Kardashians use their looks and connections to champion our attention and do not have a united, meaningful message that people rally behind. I appreciate Wu’s parallels between religion and technology and celebrities but believe that our technological actions and feelings towards celebrities speak more to human nature rather than to our past as religious followers. We are all just seeking to understand the deeper meaning of life.

  6. Divya Siddarth

    In these chapters, Wu gives a strong voice to the pitfalls and issues that surround the attention industry in the decades after the advent of television. In his words, television begins to “devour time” (127) from the average American, and this time was being packaged and sold to the highest bidder. This conception is crystallized in Ernest Dichter’s blunt statement about the point of advertising in the age of television – “never merely to inform”, but instead to “manipulate human motivations and desires and develop a need for goods with which the public has at one time been unfamiliar – perhaps even undesirous of purchasing” (133). In my view, this dictum defines the attention industry in the 1950s and 1960s. I explored in my previous comment the question of whether advertising was good or bad for the market and for the consumer, and it seems that these chapters come down fairly strongly on the negative side in answering that question. More and more, Wu says, viewership and time of the public was treated as a commodity, and “any pretenses to a higher purpose” (138) regarding broadcasting and advertising were pushed to the side. Although Wu acknowledges that “consent is not always a simple matter”, and it is difficult to say that Americans were not complicit in this commodification of their conscious hours, Wu emphasizes the ways in which the attention of the public was manipulated (with game shows, scripted drama, and sensation) for the simple, capitalistic purpose of profit. The “right to privacy in our minds” (148), so extolled by Packard, is shown to be flouted by advertisers and corporate purchasers of attention. I am curious to see how the following chapters follow the narrative around this right to privacy – who protects it, who deserves it, and whether it is, in fact, a right at all.

  7. Bradley Richard Knox

    I thought that the most important line in this week’s reading came when Marshall McLuhan said to Timothy Leary “You call yourself a philosopher, a reformer…but the key to your work is advertising” (152). Initially this statement comes off as ironic, due to the fact that Leary is attempting to lead a counterculture movement against advertising, where the main way that he must get this message out is through employing the techniques used by the major advertising corporations. However, when inspected even deeper, this statement also explains why the entire counterculture movement of the 1960’s, or really any counterculture movement against advertising, will ultimately fail.
    As Wu lays out, in order for a movement to gain traction, it must be advertised to the masses, which he shows with Leary’s speech and catch phrase “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” (153). Other counterculture movements were using popular television shows or other mediums to grow their own platforms, such as The Beatles becoming famous through appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Because the need for mainstream media is so crucial in delivering messages to the general population, a movement to abandon the mainstream media can only become popular through usage of the mainstream media. This creates a cycle in which a movement becomes reliant on the specific platform that it is trying to denounce, breathing life back into that platform. As Wu puts it, the world of advertising never died because during the 1960’s and 1970’s “most people simply did not stop watching television” (160). For this reason, the media/advertising businesses and the platforms that they use to spread their messages will never die, as they will continue to adapt and evolve due to peoples’ reliance on them as a means of communication with the outside world.

  8. A thread that has emerged from this week’s reading is the intractable interplay of commercial and political interests that drive attention merchants of all stripes. The most striking illustration was Wu’s discussion of the Pepsi’s novel branding strategy. To summarize, Pepsi realized that it could not compete with Coca-Cola on the product level. So instead, Pepsi sold the lifestyle that surrounded the beverage – one that was young, rebellious, and counter-cultural. Wu recounts an ad in which a “young woman wearing a sequined dress dances through a night in New York punctuated by abrupt flashes of lights and sound, resembling an LSD trip, with an occasional Pepsi logo thrown in…here was consumption coaxed with an anti-consumerist ethos” (158-159). Pepsi’s use of counterculture of the late 1960s is eerily reminiscent of the company’s recent ad flop featuring Kendall Jenner at what appeared to be a Black Lives Matter protest. The April 2017 riff on the 1960s strategy stank of hollow commodification and fooled no one. Clever memes were spun out across social media, chief among them, a photo of Martin Luther King Jr being beat by police at a protest, with the caption “if only he had a Pepsi.” The ad was swiftly removed. I raise this contemporary analog not only for its substantive resemblance, but also for the question both incidents raise: is liberation just another commodity? Can political movements be distilled, packaged and sold? If yes, perhaps it simply means that the movement has reached the mainstream, which itself is not a bad thing. But when said movement loses its political agenda it ceases to be a force of social transformation and becomes a mere vehicle of capitalistic ends. This, to me, lends tangible urgency to Marcuse’s warning that “‘Liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination’” (60).

  9. smss201

    On page 203, Wu remarks that “there’s a popular folk theory…that the driver of any technological advance is either sex or warfare.” In Chapters 10-19, Tim Wu’s characterization of broad advertising trends connects each new advance or “wave” of advertising to a shift in content provided (e.g. Pepsi as the “counterculture” David to Coca-Cola’s Goliath). Analyzing one level deeper, however, these waves actually appear to be driven by changes in people’s trust towards content and content providers. For example, fluctuation in game show popularity during the late 1950’s is largely attributable to a rising public belief in the show’s integrity, which rapidly diminished after the public learned that many shows were “fixed.”

    Even at this level, however, trend descriptions are qualitative. Digging deeper, Wu attempts to address the importance of analytics in understanding market trends. For example, to explain advertisers’ rush to capitalize on the post-war increase in consumer spending, he states, “advertising spending quadrupled from 1950 through 1960, from $1.3B to $1.6B” (p.130) Moreover, Wu describes how businesses transformed analytics from a tool of aggregate measure to one of targeted advertising, noting the efforts of Coca-Cola to cluster all Americans into 40 subtypes with differential spending habits.

    To this, I raise three points. First, Wu himself speaks with the benefit of hindsight- one can easily cherry-pick data points which highlight major shifts. Second, it remains unclear to what extent individual players in the advertising industry had knowledge of these empirics. And lastly, Wu thus far has made few analytics-based predictions about future trends in advertising.

    In his defense, Wu may concede inevitable authorial bias regarding the first, claim a requirement for “impossible-to-know” information for the second, and will likely answer the third in coming chapters. I agree – but nevertheless, these points undoubtedly remain important to acknowledge.

  10. Wu mentions that humans behave like animals and that our psychology can be gamed to our own detriment by outside forces. He bases his claim in Skinner’s model that human behavior is a response to all the past stimuli we might have experienced “in particular the rewards or punishments that any behavior attracts.” (186) However, Wu stops at the direct implications of the absence of free will materialized by an easiness to be conditioned by changes in our environment. If we assume that there is no free will, it also implies that in even the absence of outside forces trying to guide our behaviors, we are still prone to our environment. Aren’t we then all puppets of our environment, our collective psyche built-in over time, and our individual biology? Ultimately, our sense of agency or self is only a mere illusion? Basically, why is it detrimental that we are being manipulated? Is it because as Wu’s argues that the attention merchants represent a set of humans trying to manipulate another set of humans for their own motivations by manipulating aspects of our lives that we are not readily self-aware of? Or is it because the attention economy results in less pleasurable lives since they essentially set hedonistic traps whereby we get distracted and engage in behaviors that result in less net pleasure over time? It would be interesting to have Wu’s thoughts or more elaboration on whether the attention economy is inherently harmful because of its manipulation or because of its net utilitarian results.

  11. Wu describes the disillusionment that TV viewers come to with advertising-focussed, commercialised, and scripted content; nonetheless, this anger failed to go far in materially transforming American television’s commercialism. An illustrative example is the “first remote control” in Chapter 10, later described on p.178 as “empower[ing] the more impulsive circuits of the brain in their conflict with the executive faculties.”

    That is, the ability to choose a channel elastically counterintuitively allows short-spanned desires to take control – similarly, Netflix’s default action is to keep playing episodes in a series rather than halt, encouraging ‘binge-watching’. Ironically, the remote control reduces viewers’ optionality, as Wu touches on (in a different context) in Chapter 10, since the drastically higher costs of producing TV versus journalism lead anything risky or other than a commercial success to be pulled after a pilot.

    Likewise, it was deeply striking to me that Sesame Street’s rapid rise to prominence grew off the back of non-commercial television imitating the very techniques of commercial TV (ad breaks, constant scenery changes, etc.). From M*A*S*H to Silverman’s Charlie Brown Christmas, humans seem hard-wired towards attention-grabbing tactics; at that point, the side of television that is actually profitable (i.e. advertised television) naturally wins out in terms of attracting the best talent and marketing itself most cleverly.

    Thus, by the end of Part II, I begin to conclude that TV viewers are structurally tempted towards short-attention-span content; and that in a commercial environment, high production costs incentivise homogenous, ‘un-risky’ TV production that suits prevailing tastes, rather than genuinely challenging/teaching the viewer. As a result, I question whether a ‘mixed economy’ of public and private TV – without the sorts of rigorous de-profiting and decentralisation demonstrated by Germany in Chapter 9 – will ever be capable of preventing viewers from steering themselves into viewing worse content.

  12. Julia Thompson

    In these chapters, Wu describes the influence of celebrity, counterculture, and new technology on attention merchants. A key to advertising strategies was the promotion of a brand identity (131), using counterculture, social movements, and celebrity to show viewers an ideal version of themselves. Counterculture simultaneously increased criticism of advertising and solidified its power. The younger generation in the 1960s tended toward criticism of authority, and authority included the attention merchants who had entered their homes a decade earlier. However, as Wu described earlier with the association between cigarettes and feminism, brands could align themselves with social movements as a marketing strategy, and Pepsi did just that. Its competition with Coca-Cola, which had sold an identity of American values and Santa Claus, featured a rival image of the product’s user by defining itself in terms of the younger generation (157). Advertising that embraced counterculture meant that even those who were aware of the attention merchants were susceptible to them.
    I disagree with Wu over the idea of celebrity endorsements as a tactic similar to religion. While Oprah’s use of Christianity in her show is part of her personal brand, the image promoted in her show is self-love, luxury, and support (230). Celebrity endorsements associate fame, importance, luxury, and talent with a product, and are part of the identity the attention merchant wants to promote. Whether the association is with celebrity, counterculture, or traditional ideals, brands sell an image of the user of a product to sell the product itself.

  13. On AOL’s success, Wu mentions that the presence of “female users – not many, but enough to create a completely different atmosphere,” was a primary factor (202). What I don’t yet understand is how a proto-web-browser GUI with a chat feature [1] gained this advantage in the first place.

    Wu hints at two concordant possibilities:
    1) “[AOL’s] designers were dedicated to making AOL a happy, friendly place” (202). Where CompuServe was populated by small communities which “cured their loneliness” by indulging in their interests and turning away anyone who wasn’t as passionate, AOL lowered the internet entry toll not just technologically but culturally. Exactly how? I’m not sure, but in doing so they happened to foster a significant female user base.
    2) EJ Dickson points out that AOL’s reputation and admission of “early cybersex allowed young women to explore their early sexual identities and desire without the fear of judgment” (204). This is something no competitor was willing/able to do – for instance, Prodigy’s model centered on ad revenue, and so they had to regulate forum content aggressively (206). AOL found an under-served niche, and as a consequence, AOL developed a young audience in their formative years that could grow with the company.

    I’m struggling to find an analog in today’s world to shed some light on what would have made the difference. Tumblr is commonly considered to have a strong female userbase [2], except that the model of discourse – blogging vs chatrooms – is fundamentally different. Around 70% of Pinterest users are women [3], but again it’s difficult to point out a direct link between Pinterest’s design principles and AOL’s 23-person chat rooms. I think the answer to this question would have to arise from understanding AOL’s development in context, and I still haven’t managed to find that information yet.

    [1] https://i.pinimg.com/originals/01/f9/75/01f975659e2ec1560876d9ca030e8738.jpg
    [2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/05/20/5-facts-about-tumblr/
    [3] https://digiday.com/media/why-pinterest-is-still-a-predominantly-female-platform/

  14. A theme that Wu brings up in this chapter is that we have an illusion of free choice when it comes to decision-making in a society of attention merchants. This idea is summed up by Marcuse’s quote: “Liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination [for] free election of masters does not abolish the masters or their slaves [and] free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear.” (160) This depicts an extended metaphor between the masters of consumer consciousness, or the attention merchant, and slaves, or consumers. In doing so, Wu insinuates that due to the adaptiveness of attention merchants and their use of subliminal appeals, we lose our free will when it comes to decision-making, even if that choice that we buy into is counter-culture.

    However, in suggesting that having a channel to maintain control over consumers leads to an inevitable cycle of consumer slavery to attention merchants, Wu takes a very nihilistic view on the corporate-consumer relationship in our society. While it is true that market appeals affect us and our own decision making, Wu hasn’t yet significantly addressed how consumer choices affect the attention merchants’ altogether. For example, Wu explains Pepsi’s marketing of its product to its so-called “Pepsi Generation” in a vindictive light, suggesting that it sells the illusion of alternative liberation; whereas Pepsi’s campaign alignment in the first place was inspired by consumer preferences for anti-conformity. These anti-conformists see a character image with the values they adhere to in Pepsi’s branding and make a deliberate choice to advance their values through consumerism. Spotlighting the consumer impact on these companies flips the master-slave metaphor on its head, and thus we must rethink Wu’s nihilistic view suggesting that we are controlled by the attention merchants; rather, we may very much control them utilizing our freedom to choose.

  15. Meg Verity Elli Saunders

    A seemingly recurring theme in The Attention Merchants is the question of whether, with so many parties bombarding us with attempts to harvest our attention, we as people have control over our attention. Filmmaker Orson Wells, quoted by Wu on page 146, seems to believe not, saying, “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.” Wu goes on to describe a revolution in the format of television that was designed to give consumers more choice as to where their attention might be places: the introduction of various television channels from which viewers could choose. However, critical philosophers such as Herbert Marcuse, cited by Wu on page 160 would argue that the implementation of such changes, contrary to what might be expected, actually decrease the free will of the viewer. His argument is: “Liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination…free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves.” Wu apparently is in agreement with Marcuse as he concludes: “technologies designed to increase our control over our attention…have the very opposite effect. They open us up to a stream of instinctive selections, and tiny rewards, the sum of which may be no reward at all.” Perhaps the point is that the impression of choice is more captivating to the consumer, because it gives them the perception of power and individuality. This feeling of power, however, is an illusion. In the example of the television, whilst we may have control over what channel we watch, we still are drawn to spending hours fruitlessly watching television, and the attention merchants who harvest our attention through this medium are no less able to impose their commercially-directed distractions on us.

  16. sandipsrinivas1

    The second section of Wu’s book addresses a crucial theme that actually came into play at the end of the first section. Here, Wu introduces the idea of joint attention (paying attention while among a group of people as opposed to individual), by saying: “If to pay attention is to open the mind to information, to do so in an animated crowd is to fling the doors wide open” (113).
    Wu then details the many attempts to capture joint attention on the part of the attention merchants, the biggest catalyst of which is the television. As Wu puts it: “With a great many Americans, sometimes even a majority, watching the same programs, exposed to the same information, every day…a kind of convergence was inevitable” (129). Television provided the most effective outlet yet to capture collective consciousness of the masses. This unprecedented move made the tool more powerful, because even though people were in different places as they took part in this joint attention, the fact that they experienced the same sorts of feelings and thoughts created a sense of collectiveness.
    Even as the counterculture movement created a shift towards individualism in consumer choice, attention merchants still capitalized on joint attention. Pepsi’s advertising campaign to the younger generation represented an attempt at collecting joint attention from a strict demographic, and this technique would later be expanded with the growth of PRIZM demographic tools. The PRIZM concept of “say different things to different people and win them all” (173) epitomizes the contest for stratified, joint attention.
    This is all meant to say that joint attention signifies an important change in Wu’s book. As opposed to solely talking about individualized attention, Wu has begun to dive into its sociology, and how techniques of capitalizing on groups’ attention can be immensely powerful.

  17. Alex Gill

    In Chapter 17, Wu explores the 1970s rise of celebrity-industrial complex, which I would argue has grown exponentially in the past half-century, perhaps peaking today as we encounter celebrity news through all types of media: magazines, websites, television, and social media. I wanted to elaborate on Wu’s description of fame as “professional capital,” since I think this phenomenon has become particularly salient in the age of social media. Recently, we’ve seen the coining of terms like “social media influencer,” people who have managed to capture the attention of hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, Facebook, or others. These influencers perfectly embody fame as professional capital: parlaying the attention they receive on social media into sponsorships for companies seeking to take advantage of their followers’ attention. Their primary profession is simply to “be famous.”

    Fame as a profession has manifested amongst established celebrities as well. Members of the Kardashian family make significant profits off of “appearances” at clubs, malls, and launch parties. Similarly, DJ Khaled, a celebrity whose fame comes more from his Snapchat account than his music, regularly makes “appearances” throughout the country, where crowds of fans gather to get a glimpse of someone they normally only see on screen. What shocks me about celebrity appearances is that the celebrities involved are not required to provide any entertainment or even sign autographs. Their job at these events, like the job of an influencer, is to show up and be famous, yet this simple act catches the attention of millions of fans.

    It seems that modern celebrity has managed to reach the extremes of fame as professional capital, and the more attention a person can acquire, the greater their worth. This monetization of celebrity and fame further exposes attention merchants as a true, legitimate industry.

  18. In Chapter 13, Wu discusses the “quantitative version of the shamanistic insight” into behavioral tendencies and psychological marketing strategies (174). This quantitative modeling differed in that it related to societal segments as larger entities rather than a random individual and strictly paid attention to the data, foreshadowing the data-centric focus in the computer era. However, sociological data is generally far less accurate than that regarding the individual traits of an individual that one could derive from computational sources and thus must make some generalizations about a targeted group.

    By leveraging the PRIZM system to target various groups via geographic location, advertisers attempted to generalize and target groups that seemed more likely to adopt products than others (173). This sort of advertising brings Wu to question, as we discussed in class last week, “Were the networks reacting to fragmented audiences, or were they in face fragmenting them? In retrospect, they were doing both” (175). Wu briefly addresses the question, but I think it hints at the greater question: To what degree did the networks fragment audiences beyond their current state? Unfortunately, due to the inaccuracies of sociological data and the ability to capture only generalizations through quantitative insight, this is a difficult question to answer sufficiently.

    Given the complexity and nearly infinite number of variables influencing social tendencies, we could only grasp a vague sense of certainty that the result of the advertising has been identified if an exponentially greater amount of data on these groups had been gathered. This hints at the heightened abilities to do so given the rise of interpersonal attention merchants running chat rooms, email, and eventually social media (202). The impact of marketing via social media is yet to be clarified and the steps sociologists take to correlate online activity to real-life will be interesting.

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