The Rise of Homo Distractus

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Columbia law professor Tim Wu (@superwuster), author of The Master Switch (2010), has a new book, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.

A few months ago, I posted a piece called “Can You Concentrate Long Enough to Read This Title in Its Entirety Without Blinking or Looking Away?“, and while that details our shockingly short and stupendously sad attention span, Mr. Wu’s latest literary offering puts his crosshairs squarely on advertising.

Mr. Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” (the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites), writes extensively about how advertisers have shifted from traditional Madison Avenue-style advertising (think Mad Men) and have now zeroed in on the Internet.

But even as software program and computer companies try to defend against this, “attention merchants are always growing new heads, even as their means of getting inside our heads are changing our very nature–cognitive, social, political and otherwise–in ways unimaginable even a generation ago.”

A couple of choice quotes from Mr. Wu include the following:

“Attention, after all, is ultimately a zerosum game.”

And my favourite:

“…homo distractus, a species of ever-shorter attention span known for compulsively checking his devices.”

I think I have to get my hands on this book. After turning off all my electronic devices, that is.

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