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The Attention Merchants

The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Attention merchant: an industrial-scale harvester of human attention. A firm whose business model is the mass capture of attention for resale to advertisers.
In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of advertising enticements, branding efforts, sponsored social media, commercials and other efforts to harvest our attention. Over the last century, few times or spaces have remained uncultivated by the 'attention merchants', contributing to the distracted, unfocused tenor of our times. Tim Wu argues that this is not simply the byproduct of recent inventions but the end result of more than a century's growth and expansion in the industries that feed on human attention. From the pre-Madison Avenue birth of advertising to TV's golden age to our present age of radically individualized choices, the business model of 'attention merchants' has always been the same. He describes the revolts that have risen against these relentless attempts to influence our consumption, from the remote control to FDA regulations to Apple's ad-blocking OS. But he makes clear that attention merchants grow ever-new heads, and their means of harvesting our attention have given rise to the defining industries of our time, changing our nature - cognitive, social, and otherwise - in ways unimaginable even a generation ago.

From Publishers Weekly

08 August 2016 – Business is always trying to get our attention and perhaps our souls according to this lively if sometimes overwrought history of advertiser-sponsored media. Columbia law professor and net-neutrality advocate Wu (The Master Switch) takes readers from the 19th-century dawn of New York's penny press, when media moguls first realized that the attention of readers was their "product" and advertisers their customers, through the propaganda of wartime Britain and Nazi Germany, the advent of television's mesmeric power, and ultimately the current onslaught of garish pop-ups and click-bait junk-journalism fighting to hijack our eyeballs on the Internet. Wu's critique of the Kardashianized spiritual malaise of our society of the spectacle "We are at risk of being not merely informed but manipulated and even deceived by ads... of living lives that are less fully our own than we imagine," he groans feels old hat; the real problem seems to be simply how to prune back ads that have grown too invasive and annoying. Fortunately, his history is usually vigorous and amusing, filled with details of colorful hucksterism and cunning attention-grabbing ploys along with revealing insights into the behavioral quirks they instill in us. The result is an engrossing study of what we hate about commercial media.
The Attention Merchants
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  • £6.49
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: 05 January 2017
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books
  • Print Length: 626 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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