Book Review: The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu
This was a fascinating history of the industry, people, and tactics that relentlessly pursue your attention. The book covers the advances of this industry as it keeps pace with advancing technology, from propaganda posters, radio, movies, television, email, the web, and most recently on social media and to the ‘fourth screen’ the mobile devices that rarely leave our grip. It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that you are constantly being advertised to, but it’s still very eye opening to learn the history and evolution of the efforts to get inside your head, eye opening and unnerving.
I began reading this book the weekend before Thanksgiving. And on an unrelated whim, on Thanksgiving Eve, I decided I would focus on enjoying the company of having my kids home for the holiday, and take a ‘Facebook Fast’ for three days. I’m guilty of being pretty much addicted to Facebook, obsessively checking in, sharing another selfie, forwarding a ‘real’ news article, and liking and commenting on the sharing by others. The notion of opting out of Facebook for three days felt much like a drinker’s (which I am) going on the wagon for a few days, just to prove to themselves that they can. Well, I did, and it was find. I should have turned off the notifications from Facebook on my phone, which worked to suck me back in, but I resisted.
And being off of Facebook, helped allow me to more quickly tear through this engaging book, which coincidentally, in it’s final lines, advised doing exactly what I had done,
“If we desire a future that avoids the enslavement of the propaganda state as well as the narcosis of the consumer and celebrity culture, we must first acknowledge the preciousness of our attention and resolve not to part with it as cheaply or unthinkingly as we so often have. And then we must act, individually and collectively, to make our attention our own again, and so reclaim ownership of the very experience of living.”
My only wish for improvement would have been if the book had included a section of photos and illustrations. Frequently when reading, I couldn’t help but tear my attention from the deep reading I was enjoying in order to Google a wartime poster, or a person, or breakthrough advertising campaign in order to better know and appreciate what I was reading about. All things which should have been included in the book.
Despite that minor quibble, I recommend this book highly. And I expect that my successful experiment of a Facebook Fast is one that I’ll repeat. Not just to prove that I can. But to reclaim ownership of MY very experience of living.