Economy of Attention

December 16, 2016 | 00:00
At the beginning of the year, Elektor neglected to indicate to its readers the function of the editorial piece which, like this one, opens each new e-zine. Even if it’s a bit late, an update on this should not go amiss. The principle of the editorial piece is as follows: half a dozen authors are appointed to write it (as I’m doing here) on a fixed roster. They draw inspiration as they see fit, at random from a torrent of information. Such fresh news may resonate with the feeling of the day or with the personality of the relevant editor; it gives birth to unexpected reflections, a surprise, and the result may be an editorial piece where electronics is only part of the picture.

Some editorials are seemingly inoffensive, others seem to be clickbait. Subjects succeed each other and ignore each other; reactions of opposite polarity seem to cancel each other out. Like a twisted pair cable: no interference, minimal crosstalk. And the absence of any comments makes any conclusion meaningless; the majority remains silent, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Of the 2000 characters allowed by the publisher for these editorials , I’m now left with half of that to devote to my subject. It's not unrelated to the preceding; neutrality is a feature of these editorials, to technology, to the sciences, to new technologies. To electronics in particular, and its eldest daughter: virtual communication by software, so well orchestrated by Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

Neutral, these Californian super-magnets and their disciples? They combine their irresistible technology with all the tricks of psychological manipulation to catch our attention. Like the fairground artists of old, or the old TV animators, but now on a global scale, armies of programmers fight over the time between two of our clicks; it’s economy of attention conquered by mental piracy.

This is not coming from me, a grumpy luddite, but from Tristan Harris, 32 years old, an ex ”product philosopher” from Google, now become a design ethicist.
He asks some common sense questions. If GAFA sends us their “philosophies” is it not urgent that we economise our attention, thwart their manipulations, and above all train young minds to resist their siren song?

[ Editor’s note: to avoid getting even more of your attention, Comments have been disabled.]
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