Friday, December 22, 2017

The Attention Merchants

I was so impressed by Tim Wu's The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires that I decided to give another of his books, The Attention Merchants, a read. It provided a terrific history of advertising: where it came from, how it has evolved, and how technology now gives it unfettered access to our brains.

What surprised me is how much heavy-lifting in advancing this industry has been done by governments. Needing men and boys to fight wars, those in charge developed advanced mind-manipulation capabilities, with some remarkable feats including with the British in World War I and the German propaganda machine of World War II.

I ended up learning a lot about the history of the media business as well, since in most cases ads and media have gone hand in hand. But I don't necessarily see eye to eye with Wu when it comes to fearing a future dystopia where we can't get away from ads at all. I believe individuals do have choices, and it's on them to exercise their choices so that their opinions are not formed by advertisers. I think technology enables that in a lot of ways, as it is now more possible than ever to pay for content, rather than have a version of content served up in a pure advertising model.

Where my fears lie is a world where governments, not corporations, have access to the kind of info made possible by technology. This is because of their monopoly on violence, which would prevent choice, should constitutional freedoms be some day ignored.

On that hopeful note, enjoy the book!

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