10/17/2017 – The Attention Merchants (conclusion)

This week we finish reading Tim Wu’s book The Attention Merchants (chapters 20-29 and Epilogue), and we anticipate a long-distance Q&A session with the author at the beginning of the class period (7:30-8pm). Please post your comment about this week’s reading here before 5pm on Tuesday, October 17th.



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19 responses to “10/17/2017 – The Attention Merchants (conclusion)

  1. Through chapters 20-29, Tim Wu chronicles the continuing granularization of targeted consumer groups by the rising titans of the Information (possibly now Disinformation) age, a process that is now gaining a finer resolution of target markets than ever achievable by forerunners like Jonathan Robbin’s PRIZM program(172). What I became curious about is whether authoritarianism thrives in environments of extremely attention-diffuse world like the one that we presently inhabit. This book ends in discussion of Donald Trump’s rise to power on a tidal wave of attention-capturing energy, and in consideration of all the discussion of an authoritarian right, I think its an apt matter to consider the implications of fragmentation of cultural groups and the ability of such groups to mobilize against authoritarianism. Wu mentions that the internet facilitated the rise of what he deems “a-geographical communities, aggregations purely by common interest and passion” (271). I would like to suggest that this loss of dependency on location for community’s to form might have the effect of attenuating community’s ability to manifest in physical spaces, and thus more and more communities might start adopting a ephemerality that limits their ability to effective check authoritative behavior by other groups. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World effectively argues that we should not be as expectant of creeping authoritarianism that sustains itself through fear as we should be of that sustained by pleasure, and while we could also talk about elements of intimidation often witnessed in today’s political arena, I think that much more of the time, some of the less appealing aspects of the current US administration are sustained by different groups inability to converge and focus with so many distractions available at the click of a button. To counter myself, however, greater empathy exists across social groups than ever before.

  2. In the chapter “The Place to Be,” Wu contends that Facebook collects large amounts of personal, sensitive data on users while having very little to offer in return. “The public [is] like renters willingly making extensive improvements to their landlord’s property, even as they were made to look at advertisements,” Wu argues (301). He smirks the only reward that Facebook gives us is access to our “friends,” a word that he flippantly places in quotes to signify our online connections are not as meaningful as our offline ones (301). I would cautiously push back on this argument that Facebook does not provide us proportionate benefits for the amount of value we provide to the site. As the paper “Growing Closer on Facebook: Changes in Tie Strength Through Social Network Site Use” (Burke & Kraut 2014) finds, Facebook allows us to strengthen our ties with both our friends and family. According to this paper, rather than being the nefarious time-sucker critics portray it as, Facebook actually acts as a relationship grower, strengthening ties between individuals. However, it is important to note these positive relationship-growing effects on Facebook are contingent on users sharing composed pieces (e.g. comments, direct messages) over one-click actions (e.g. likes). Thus, if Wu is referring to the activities on Facebook that are one-click actions as futile and pointless, then his argument lives together with Burke and Kraut’s paper without conflict. Otherwise, this paper substantiates the existence of a significant social benefit that we receive through our use of Facebook, which would falsify Wu’s claim that our relationship with Facebook is not symbiotic.

  3. tamara2205

    Speaking about the early days of user-generated content (UGC), Wu describes blogging as “an attention-capturing format that was truly different, even if the force drawing attention to it was not quite clear” (268). I would object, however, to Wu’s designation of blogging as an “attention-capturing” platform. The term “to capture” implies another party’s intentional efforts to take away something without our consent or otherwise take advantage of our passivity and penchant for entertainment. Thus, “capturing” seems to directly contradict the intentional nature of production implied by the term user-generated content. Ultimately, taking the time and effort to produce writing takes more than simple bottom-up stimulation and is more of a top-down process, less dependent on external stimuli. Moreover, Wu states that with UGC “the force drawing attention is not quite clear.” Positing that people’s drive to generate content is triggered by an external force, however, is a bold assumption to make. In fact, Wu himself talks of the early days of the Internet as an environment devoid of attention-capturing strategies, a place “without filters or…advertising” (269). Knowing that the early Internet era was attention-merchant-free, we could argue that the independent variable driving content generation is the inherent human desire for self-expression that found its satisfaction on a new medium. However, in today’s ad-flooded days of the Internet, the question arises: could we deliberately create attention-capturing strategies that could encourage people to actively generate rather than passively consume content? Moreover, could the empowering feelings of increased agency increase engagement with online platforms, and would this be more beneficial for users or for companies and advertisers? Ultimately, we may arrive at a paradox in which increasing user agency through encouraging content generation serves the end goal of hindering it to ensure loyalty to the platform and secure profit in the long run.

  4. Caroline Cin-kay Ho

    In “A Retreat and a Revolt,” Wu discusses how Netflix, with its successful focus on capturing “deeper, sustained attention” (330), ultimately beat out “free” television, with its “mindless diversions” (333). This brought to my mind Medium, which I believe has the potential to cause a similar revolt in the way we consume written news. In “The Web Hits Bottom”, Wu introduces Medium as merely “an effort to reboot blogging” (322), but I believe it has grown into something greater: an ideal for what reading the news could be like. Like Netflix, Medium eschews advertising, placing the focus on user content. Additionally, the clean design of the site contributes to the experience of total immersion: when you open an article, its content (displayed on a clean background with minimal color and maximal whitespace) is the only thing you see until you reach the end. Hence, Medium permits readers to savor articles slowly, feeling fully in control as to when they can start or stop reading more articles. Compare this to the typical Buzzfeed or even New York Times online article (excluding certain longform reports), interrupted throughout by ads and distracting images linking to other articles, pushing readers to gorge on as much as possible as fast as possible. The frustration with this method of attention capture in news media is not negligible: I am reminded of the week following the 2016 election, during which many of my friends expressed a sense of fatigue from spending even a few minutes on Facebook, which flooded them with a veritable hurricane of flashy headlines practically demanding their attention at gunpoint. With its encouragement of deliberate and focused reading, Medium, like Netflix, might make us “wonder why we had put up with anything else for so many years” (334).

  5. Divya Siddarth

    What initially stood out to me about these ten chapters was Wu’s clear contempt in recounting the history of web platforms and web advertising. His voice drips with disgust, calling the web everything from the “definitive dystopic vision of late modernity” (315) to an “outright cesspool” (322). I tried to separate this vitriol from what I found to be the most interesting question of these chapters, which is regarding whether the price of attention (in privacy and consent) is too high in the context of modern technology and its ability to gather information. This question is formulated throughout the chapters, as Wu speaks about the fine between “tracking” and “spying” (300), and similarly between “stalkers” (evil) and “valets” (helpful) (323). I found it particularly interesting to look at web advertising as it stood on the timeline of advertising and attention-selling covered in previous chapters – is it fundamentally any different? In a sense, yes – clearly we see that web merchants (Google, Facebook, and the like) have access to previously unheard-of quantities of private information (location, family members, search terms, etc). Further, there is a certain eroding in the “times and spaces” that can be “consider[ed] too valuable, too personal, or too sacrosanct for the usual onslaught” (350) of attention-selling – once the living room seemed too intrusive for advertisement, and we now carry our advertisement rectangle around with us everywhere. However, there is also an extent to which I find this form of advertising to be a logical, if not welcome, next step in the “eternal balancing act between advertisers and users” (338) – not to say that the new and more technologically advanced advertising described in these chapters is any less intrusive that it has been painted, but rather that this kind of intrusion has been creeping up on us all along.

  6. rhwang2

    In the last third of the book, although Wu highlights multiple examples of consumer revolts against attention merchants (f/e Netflix and Ad blocker), many of these revolts are specifically against advertisers, and often times the consumer “pays” in some way. As Wu questions, “what are the costs to a society of an entire population conditioned to spend so much of their waking lives not in concentration and focus but rather in fragmentary awareness and subject to constant interruption? (epilogue)”
    While Wu seems to think these “revolts” are non trivial in the struggle with attention merchants, in the epilogue he suggests a few courses of action. He writes “what is called for might be a human reclamation project,” where individuals are responsible to make a conscious effort to reduce their consumption of multimedia content, but as he caveats this is easier said than done, and he seems to stop short of suggesting a course of action that would truly move the needle (epilogue). That being said, it might be productive for more consumers to be aware of the costs associated with the attention economy. For one, it could increase the potential for productive regulation.
    I wonder if it would be productive if regulators could outlaw the use of engagement enhancing features on websites. For example, Youtube and Netflix both automatically load a new video when the user’s current video has ended. Another example is the endless scrolling feature that can be seen on Facebook and Youtube. The advantage of outlawing such features is that it would apply to all websites, whereas a company targeted regulation could potentially open the way for an advantaged competitor. The disadvantage would be that these regulations would generally be medium specific and not apply to f/e TV.

  7. Bradley Richard Knox

    In this week’s reading, Wu raised a few points about the future of television that I don’t necessarily disagree with, but feel as though they do not explore the impacts of such advancements in a deep enough way. When commenting on journalist Andrew Romano’s experience of watching Game of Thrones, which Romano claims to be a positive experience, Wu says that if it “sounds like an experience worth more than all the mindless diversions of free TV, it probably is” and also that television “was now repaying the attention it attracts in a way that put the viewer’s experience first” (333). I agree with him that these new forms of television have liberated the viewer from the controlling reach of the traditionally constructed attention merchants due to both the higher quality of the programming combined with the lack of advertisements. However, I am not sure that this transition away from attention merchants towards binge-watching is a positive one (I know that forms of show watching such as HBO and Netflix do not equate to binge-watching, but due to the nature of how they are constructed it is very frequently a side-effect). As Wu states, “our lives have become the very opposite of those cultivated by the monastics…whose time was precisely to reap the fruits of deep and concentrated attention” (352), but I don’t think that this deep and concentrated attention should be used as we sit on the couch staring at a television screen immersed in some fantasy world. Although I do enjoy shows like Game of Thrones, viewing this transition as some kind of attentional victory is ludicrous, as viewers are just as much, if not more, distracted from their own lives as ever before, and consequently are developing addictive, antisocial, and unhealthy habits.

  8. In this week’s reading I was intrigued by Wu’s mention of the “White Flight” from MySpace to Facebook circa 2008 – discussed in the context of MySpace’s demise and Facebook’s ascendance. This piqued my interest as part of a larger inquiry into the way existing social realities express themselves in the information systems we build. Are patterns of social behavior offline simply replicated online? Amplified? Or “disrupted?” (as Silicon Valley claims).

    Wu’s citation of danah boyd’s work on social media White Flight quotes a participant in boyd’s study on the topic: “‘MySpace is more like a ghetto’” (298). Upon further reading into boyd’s paper [1], it becomes clear that a crucial structural factor leading to the quoted user’s experience was Facebook’s requirement of the .edu email address. The first generation of Facebook users was, by definition, college educated and upwardly mobile (to the extent that college makes one upwardly mobile). As boyd writes, this gave Facebook the reputation as the classier (read: white, wealthy) alternative to MySpace.

    The demographics of social media platforms bear heavily on a phenomenon Wu discusses in chapter 23 on the rise of user-generated content and the fear that fragmentation of information corrupts the “public square.” Wu writes that blogging and user-generated content represented “a real break with earlier models of attention harvesting” that being, “everyone gathering to listen to a single voice reaching the entire nation” (271). Though we no longer gather around the nightly news to hear a “single voice,” when we scroll down our feeds we experience echo chambers produced by like-minded peers, abetted by algorithms designed to capture our attention. In this way, and upon considering boyd’s analysis of the class endogamy, perhaps social media is less of a “break” than we thought.

    1. boyd, danah. (2011). “White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook.” In Race After the Internet (eds. Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White). Routledge, pp. 203-222.

  9. In the Chapter “Who’s Boss Here”, Wu exposes the new dichotomy between business models that offer free products for the exchange of attention and information and business models that offer services without ads for the exchange of money. Wu invites the reader to think about alternatives to oppose the realization that “when an online service is free, you’re the customer. You’re the product.” (336) Wu also mentions that the adoption of new alternatives creates an interesting dynamic “the problem for the attention merchants is that once people get used to avoiding advertisements, it’s hard to accept the terms of the old arrangement” (338) Hence, moving away from the attention economy would theoretically convert users for life. It would be interesting to know whether or not the public actually would be interested in those alternatives. Google has been doing experiments with programs like Contributor for example where it’s estimated that an average user would pay around $7 a month to turn off ads. However, this implies that each user has a theoretical value of their monetary potential attached to them. Put in another way, we would be agreeing to a self-purchase agreement. I would be curious to learn about what people in the class (and Wu) do in their daily lives about their attention management and whether they would pay around $10 per month to turn off ads. I personally would pay that amount, and currently, limit my social media usage to about an hour a day maximum (blocking the rest of the time with an app called self-control).

  10. Meg Verity Elli Saunders

    Wu asserts that the commercial exploitation of all spaces that are populated with attention is inevitable saying, “Where attention is paid, the attention merchant lurks patiently to reap his due.”(275) It has already been established that blatantly desperate efforts of attention merchants to make financial gain through the harvesting of attention is met with rebellion. It seems, therefore, that the most successful ways of making money out of people’s attention are also the most subtle. Wu illustrates two such examples of  entities that have managed to make billions out of our attention, whilst seemingly remaining free from the contamination of traditionally hated adverts: Google, and Facebook. What both these companies have in common is that their medium for harvesting attention is the World Wide Web. Another commonality is that the engineers behind them were contemptuous towards adverts: Google’s Page, who Wu described as a “purist” to whom “few things [were] smellier than advertising,”(262) and Facebook’s Zuckerberg, who said, “I just hate advertising that stinks.”(297) It seemed that their hatred of adverts helped them come up with ingeniously effective alternatives. Google’s strategy was to use the intimate information that people shared with their search engines to learn what people really wanted, and to advertise accordingly. Using a similar mechanism, Facebook invented the like function enabling it to ascertain a gist of people’s preferences, and sneak bespoke advertisements into their newsfeed. This much more insidious method of financially benefitting from attention, enabled by the internet, has certainly proven much less cumbersome to the consumer. Wu’s description of “the fall of the web” to commercialism has very negative connotations. However, in the examples of Facebook and Google, the extraction of wealth by means of attention seems not to damage the experience of the user. Does this not make it acceptable?

  11. In “The Fourth Screen and the Mirror of Narcissus”, Wu further Instagram for producing a “chaotic mutual admiration society, full of enterprising Narcissi, surely an arrangement of affairs without real precedent in human history,” (317) due to the fact that these platforms “legitimize self-aggrandizement” (315) and the “celebrification of everyday life,” (314) through their appeals to our inherent nature to search for approval from others. Interestingly enough, Wu doesn’t directly blame the platforms themselves, but rather the fact that these tools allow us to more easily compete for the approval we so seek.

    The first notion that came to mind while understanding the impact of superficiality on social media was the age-old cliché: “Happiness is contagious.” Perhaps a large part of too-good-to-be-true posts on social media are indeed “contrived and edited” (316) to portray the utopian lifestyle, but in that case, wouldn’t viewers aspire to attain these bettered lifestyles, thus bettering themselves? Furthermore, when someone tailors their “digital self” to a better version of themselves, wouldn’t positive feedback and “likes” form positive-reinforcement, encouraging the poster to make that depiction of the self a reality?

    Unfortunately, after further research, and coming across the University of Denver’s Iris Mauss’ research on the “Paradoxical Effects of Valuing Happiness”, I discounted this hypothesis. According to Mauss, “The more people valued happiness, the lower were their hedonic balance, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction, and the higher their depression symptoms.” Such is the reason why our perfectly-tailored social-media lives fail to lead to our own growth, development, and self-induced happiness-creation. The problem, then, with platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or essentially any media appealing to our desire to be desired, is not that they digitally epitomize the pursuit of happiness. It is rather that they do so more incessantly and ubiquitously than we can handle.

    Mauss, I. B., Tamir, M., Anderson, C. L., & Savino, N. S. (2011). Can seeking happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness. Emotion, 11(4), 807-815.

  12. Julia Thompson

    In the final third of The Attention Merchants, Wu describes how technology has led to a wider variety of attention merchants and led users to believe that they also can become attention merchants. Advertising began to take many different forms, as targeting to specific populations became more refined. Search engines had a significant advantage in their ability to target users who have already identified a desire and were in the process of attempting to fulfill it. However, sites like GoTo that directly ranked searches higher by payment without also confirming relevance were the targets of significant criticism, notably from Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google (260-261). Google soon found that it needed to turn to advertising for money as well, but targeted those who were “plainly expressing a commercial intent” to avoid some of the same pitfalls as GoTo (263). Google’s success with population targeting has since been replicated by many websites, especially Facebook.
    Social networking transformed the attention economy by allowing individuals to exchange attention with each other. However, through advertising and offering stock to the public, Facebook sold attention that people paid to each other. Meanwhile, through the ability to “like” posts and pages, individuals and businesses could track how much attention they were receiving and adjust their posting strategy accordingly. The ability to measure and attract attention was expanded with Twitter and Instagram, and, through social media, it was possible to become “microfamous,” and some who were microfamous could even resell that attention through sponsored posts (313). While targeted advertising and connections on social media made attention merchants seem more helpful and controllable, many of their same strategies from previous media transitioned to the Internet.

  13. I found the description of the blogosphere in chapter 21 especially interesting this week. Wu describes a world of dramatic fragmentation, where people’s attention moved from conventional news to what they liked: as is stated on p.274, “We used to be able to say, there’s this really important story in Poland. […] Now people say, I just look up what I’m interested in on the Internet.” The ‘social’ web made possible a new trend: targeting not only advertising, but also content, to a specific segment of viewers, who return if they like what they read.

    While Lessig was right that this model was ultimately overrun by larger media entities, that theme of personalisation persisted even through the consolidation of blogs into larger entities. The original microtargeting of the advertising industry has been replaced by whole content sources – ex. The Huffington Post, Perez Hilton – that select a very specific sort of coverage and viewer.

    These ‘media giants’ are potentially more dangerous than their predecessors, however, due to monopoly. The defining trend of Internet readership in my eyes is the consolidation of content into two dozen sources that people read more exclusively. Where people once had a multitude of blogs to read, the concentration of an individual’s attention on one or two sites enhances the potential for manipulation, the exclusion of politically opposing groups, and more extreme content (in a TV context, see MSNBC’s successful tack leftward from ch. 20).

    As younger people read sites like Buzzfeed that explicitly proclaim their disinterest in political news – and, thanks to the news section of Snapchat, can read it exclusively and see it as a ‘legitimate’ singular source – I wonder if the real concern with online media today is not over-tailored advertising (which at least can be blocked), but over-tailored content.

  14. Alex Gill

    In his chapter “Attention Merchant Turned President,” Wu argues that Trump perfectly portrays the themes of an attention merchant. After articulating a number of ways in which Trump has successfully managed to capture and keep America’s attention, however, Wu soon begins to question “how long it can be maintained” (347) and hypothesizes that Trump “could lose power as the public tunes out” (347).

    Although I understand Wu’s perspective that attention is power, I think he is grossly underestimating the power Donald Trump holds irrespective of public enthrallment. Perhaps Wu is somewhat correct in claiming that as the public works to ignore Trump, he could lose some power as his actions take up less of our thoughts, time, and emotions. However, even with less attention, Trump will certainly hold on to the majority of his power, as he will remain President (for the next three years at least) regardless of how much attention he receives. Trump’s election to the presidency was the ultimate cashing in of attention currency for an even bigger prize: the power of law. Although he continues to fight for attention capture to retain his social influence as well, his executive authority remains crucial to the core of his powers. Even if the public doesn’t respond to a controversial tweet, Trump still has to power to place an executive order or start a war.

    Most attention merchants ultimately fail because they are unable to continuously retain public attention. However, Trump has demonstrated a new tactic: a one-time exchange of public attention for at least four years of another kind of authority. Although continuous attention may complement his current powers, attention is no longer his sole mode of influence. Trump may be the first attention merchant capable of escaping the attention market successfully.

  15. sandipsrinivas1

    As Tim Wu writes in his epilogue, “it has seemed as if the party was over, that consumers had fled once and for all, and yet the attention merchants have always found a way to overgrow the bright new machines” (348-9). As we wrap up “The Attention Merchants,” this seems to be the major theme Wu wants to get across in his communication of the Human Reclamation Project–the merchants cannot be beaten by waiting for them to go away. Instead, we must take concrete steps to do without them, including “technologies that help us focus and think rather than distract and diminish” (351).
    The progression of Wu’s novel was one in which the attention market was depicted as an ever-evolving bacterium. From the earlier concepts of joint attention to the invasion of the private space, to the Google idea of giving “access to people who were plainly expressing a commercial intent” (263), “The Attention Merchants” is an exhibition of progression in the industry.
    This story arc poses a difficult question with regards to Wu’s epilogue manifesto of reclaiming individual attention: how? Even in situations where we push for and acquire the aforementioned technologies that help us focus and think, if this novel has taught us one thing about what happens after a new hot commodity enters the attention industry, it’s that plenty of not-as-enriching alternatives will rear their heads. Even though Wu describes activities such as “reading a book” as “stealing by the attention merchants’ lights,” (351) I am skeptical that such activities can remain truly immune to the trappings of the dumbing down. Therefore, while noble in nature, the undertaking of staying ahead of the attention merchants seems impossible due to all that Wu has shown us.

  16. Throughout The Attention Merchants, Wu seems to focus on three main topics: platforms for “harvesting” attention, the development of media that provokes attention, and ways of monetizing this attention. The third is particularly dangerous due to its alternative intentions and exploitation of the benefits of the first two.

    While targeting solutions for television such as PRIZM monetized the differences between demographic clusters, Wu details how targeting solutions for computers and smartphones harnessed the “potential of nanotargetting consumers at a level of specificity only dreamed of by PRIZM’s designers” (297). While receiving ads more tailored to the user is beneficial to some extent, leveraging sources like Facebook, which knows “more about everyone in the world than everyone else,” inadvertently imposes a degree of advertising which users do not have the chance to turn down (299). By exploiting platforms full of media which has seemingly good intentions, the overall drive for corporations to make profit habitually abuses what may be a positive source of attention.

    While inadvertent exposure to advertising and somewhat abusive use of personal data is powerful in its own, the most pressing point is the violation of what people wants versus what they don’t want. By harnessing personal data collection in an effort more invasive than “any NSA data collection ever disclosed,” advertisers walk a fine line between the wanted and the unwanted (323). While a suggestion for a new pair of shoes to replace a pair “you hadn’t noticed you were wearing out” may be creepy, the example of a man with pancreatic cancer receiving ads for funeral services clearly crosses a tacit boundary (323).

    This brings up the problem whether it is the invasiveness or the insensitivity that violates the desires of the masses more blatantly, now that the secrets lying in the data are out.

  17. Tim Wu draws an interesting parallel between the counterculture of the 60’s and the young blogosphere of the late 90s and 00s. In both cases, the existing attention economy experienced a major disruption fueled by technological and cultural changes. The movements “encouraged both a Great Refusal of what had always been handed down from on high, and asked people to spend more time with each other” (274).

    And in both cases, the attention merchants pulled themselves through by recognizing that the freedom these changes offered to people was “not an end of desire . . . or a wish for solitary withdrawal, or . . . a spiritual longing equal to motivating an inward turn . . . [but] powerful individual desires and the will to express them” (159). Then, as now, “most simply [want] to feel more like an individual” (159). This means even our most well-intentioned discussions – the recognition of individuals and their identities in society, social justice and systemic oppression of minorities – can be used as vehicles for attracting and selling attention. And while this can go horribly wrong (Pepsi has had a recent ad blunder, in contrast to its success in the 60s) most attention merchants have again successfully adapted.

    This isn’t strictly a bad thing, since the monetization of individual expression is a good way to keep channels of individual expression secure, open, and at least somewhat regulated. But if we do want to promote a Leary-esque, inward-turning attitude with the technology we have now, we’ll need to apply technologies with the intent of getting people to think about how they’re thinking. And I don’t think that’ll get much attention from the public.

  18. Posted for smss201 (this is not my comment):

    From Chapter 20 onwards, Wu addresses the increasing role of advertising in our modern age – particularly as a function of more diverse content and an addiction to social sharing (e.g. Facebook, viral videos). However, Wu extends this argument to the ways in which increased advertising has damaged our lives (for example: “one man, after receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, found himself followed everywhere with ‘insensitive and tasteless’ ads for funeral services”; p.324) With this in mind, Wu notes that humans need to acknowledge the value of their attention, stop allowing others to take it, and reclaim it as their own. (353)

    From a practical perspective, however, this final claim appears far too broad. Certainly, Wu mentions the need for “tools designed to faithfully serve their…real interests” and “increased scrutiny of the most coercive advertisers to seize attention,” but these desires are unrealistic for two key reasons. Primarily, there is no objective criteria for defining “real interests” and “most coercive advertisers.” (353) Second, it is possible that even these “faithful” tools (e.g. mindfulness apps) can be similarly perverted into stealing our attention – leaving us back at square one.

    In Wu’s defense, he does note that attention reclamation will be difficult; and he might claim that it’s infeasible to specify his recommendations any further. In truth, we are not privy to how advertising technology will develop in the future, nor to the future ability of regulation to rein in increasingly sophisticated, coercive advertisers.

    These arguments certainly have some measure of validity, but do not preclude further specification. As a simple example, one could begin by defining criteria for “most coercive advertisers,” perhaps as a function of “trigger” words (words which strongly evoke emotion) per ad. Currently, however, the lack of specificity in Wu’s final recommendation leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

  19. Caroline Cin-kay Ho

    Not my official comment, but may be of interest to the class since it references some of the material in this week’s reading: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/13/opinion/sunday/Silicon-Valley-Is-Not-Your-Friend.html

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