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The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads Kindle Edition
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In 28 chapters Wu examines: all the key aspects of advertising trickery. The book is divided into five parts with titles such as won't be fooled again, the third screen, the conquest of time and space, and masters of blazing modernities. He uses examples to illustrate what is going on. For example, the use of advertising into public schools in America.
Wu demonstrates how almost every bit of our lives is commercially exploited as much as possible. We are seldom away from a screen of some kind. Wu explains how this state of affairs has come about. He says it is because of the rise of an industry: the Attention Merchants. It began in the early 19th century in New York. By the early 20th century war propagandists showed how the public could be duped. Harvesting human attention became thereafter a major industry. It is still growing.
What is at stake is not our culture but the very nature of our lives. We are all at risk without fully realising it. The author's main thesis is that from the penny press to social media such as Facebook ever more nasty schemes are being devised to capture our attention. Wu traces the rise of this over the past one hundred years. Some of his examples are decidedly funny. Women he shows tend to be more suggestible than men. Chat shows are used to manipulate us. Politicians employ people to sully our thinking. He examines the Pepsi-cola campaign, a notorious campaign to promote the drink over its rival Coke. His discussion about the use of the Internet is sound and important but not new.
Wu also covers recent signs of a backlash against, for example, the celebrity complex, and the evil game of clickbait. He believes our lives have been corrupted, our homes invaded and profaned. We must act he says to make our attention our own again. Observing today's children in front of a screen and the public's addiction to a smart phone, this is some challenge.
Wu could have mentioned another major reason why these Merchants are controlling so many of us: the lack of reading. Students at every stage including university are reading less and less, relying instead on the flawed information on the Internet. Ask them what they have read on a subject and will get you a blank and puzzled look. It is deeply worrying.
This is a book to savour and think about.
A similar book, but this time about the history of advertising. Starting with a man called Benjamin H. Day who invented the business model of reselling the attention of his audience in 1833. He created advertising.
Or what is now (in 2017) called brain space. In a world where everyone is suffering from ADD, how do you get somebody’s attention? How do you commercialise that attention when the average attention span is now less that of a goldfish?
No scare mongering
I was expecting a book like “The shallows” or “The end of absence” or “Digital versus human”. None of that. A factual progression of the advertising medium across the years.
From Benjamin to Reed (Hastings)
About the ongoing fragmentation of the media and the difficulty in that fragmentation to capture anyone's attention. The journey from newspaper to posters, radio, TV, the internet, gaming, AOL, MTV, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Buzzfeed and Netflix.
Some interesting facts
The first computer game was introduced in 1972
In 1978 segmentation was invented, it was called PRIZM (Potential Ratings in ZIP Markets), which created the beginning of the media fragmentation
The first spam mail was sent in May 1978
In 2011 Netflix bought the rights to “House of Cards” for a 100 million dollars
The book is a historical overview about attention fragmentation and media fragmentation. The surprise is in the last chapter.
Netflix as the counter move
Netflix is the counter move (and there is always a counter move) to attention fragmentation. Netflix is the move to deep, sustained attention, without advertising. Netflix invented binge watching. Being so engaged and immersed with a programme that one can watch hours and hours in one sitting.
Like to finish with an adjusted quote from Bill Bryson (watched “Walk in the Woods” this weekend). Cracking quote, cracking movie. “Books are Netflix for smart people”. It is the ultimate immersion.
Pick a book for Easter. Any suggestions welcome.
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