The Pathologies of the Attention Economy

L. M. Sacasas considers what we should take into consideration whenever we talk about the “problem of attention” and when we try to do something about it.

I’ve learned in listening to others tell their stories over the years that however thick or compelling the theoretical framework may be, it will not account for all of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of human experience.

I do think, however, that we need to consider the pattern Citton and Crary have, each in their own way, identified. I would describe the pattern this way:

We inhabit a techno-social environment manufactured to fracture our attention.

The interests served by this environment in turn pathologize the resultant inattention.

These same interests devise and enforce new techniques to discipline the inattentive subject.

As a more contemporary example of this dynamic, consider the recent experience with online schooling during the pandemic. When schooling was moved online, attention once more became a problem. Of course, many questioned the wisdom of demanding that children, especially young children, sit at a computer for several hours per day. But others saw an opportunity to develop and market various forms of attention monitoring software.

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