Monday, February 13, 2017

Blog Five: "The Attention Merchants" by Tim Wu

Tim Wu's book offers incredible insight into the world of online advertising.  He explains chapter by chapter how individuals are targeted online for their attention.  Gaining this attention, according to Wu, has become the ultimate goal for online strategists - and they're extremely good at it.

Wu details information regarding what he refers to as "attention merchants," who have the sole responsibility of gaining our attention.  These merchants are at our every turn, especially with our increasing internet usage.  Advertisements are all around us, but those that are online are catered even more to a particular individual or audience.  Wu explains how we are not even in control of our own attention, because it is constantly being targeted as we spend hours online.  He encourages readers to take back their lives and to block out as much of this as possible.   

What is most interesting about Wu's findings is that from the early 20th century to today, this practice has become increasingly widespread.  He explains how advertisements were shaped during the early part of this period, to how they are shaped now.  It is truly astounding to see how these attention merchants take over our online presence and use it to their advantage.  It made me think about the advertisements I see while I'm on social media sites and on regular websites for leisure or shopping.  It is incredible when I think about how, for instance, many times the advertisements I see are for items in which I have just previously researched.  These systems analyze my data and present me with what they know I would be interested in.  This is amazing, but scary at the same time.  Have we as consumers dropped the ball when it comes to our awareness of these practices?  This served as a wake-up call for me.

Wu's epilogue spoke clearly to me as well, especially when he mentions the fact that millennials are growing weary of advertisements and do not mind paying for exclusion from such ads.  This rings true with me as well.  For instance, even the music I listen to on Pandora or Spotify comes with ads.  However, the option remains for me to remove these ads by paying for the service.  Wu explains how this is not good news for attention merchants.  They would like to have the most exposure possible for as many people as possible. 

Wu says that our attention has become a commodity, and professionals are constantly looking to gain this attention and to keep it.  He expresses the need for us to reclaim our own attention once and for all - to be more mindful of these attention merchants and their desire to take over our online thinking.

This book also pointed out the differences in how this attention was gained through other media.  For example, television advertisements were very much different from the ads we see online.  They were less tailored to specific individuals and more tailored for the masses as a whole.  

Wu says we must take back our online freedom and become more aware of these attention merchants who are around our every click.  He says, "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" (Wu, 2016, p. 344).  


Wu, Tim. (2016). The Attention Merchants: The epic scramble to get inside our heads. New                               York: Alfred A. Knopf.   

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