Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Digital addiction and the attention economy.

Jia Tolentino's "What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away" is a broad essay on our digital addictions that focuses on two recent books: Cal Newport's “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” and Jenny Odell's “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy." I strongly recommend that you read it. I am going to resist the impulse to pass on many choice clips of text, limiting myself to two:
Odell elegantly aligns the crisis in our natural world and the crisis in our minds: what has happened to the natural world is happening to us, she contends, and it’s happening on the same soon-to-be-irreparable scale. She sees “little difference between habitat restoration in the traditional sense and restoring habitats for human thought”; both are endangered by “the logic of capitalist productivity.” She believes that, by constantly disclosing our needs and desires to tech companies that sift through our selfhood in search of profit opportunities, we are neglecting, even losing, our mysterious, murky depths—the parts of us that don’t serve an ulterior purpose but exist merely to exist. The “best, most alive parts” of ourselves are being “paved over by a ruthless logic of use.”
On the monetization of attention:
Legislators might succeed in granting citizens more control over the data that they generate by using the Internet, but social-media companies will, presumably, continue to treat their users like little countries that can be strip-mined to make other people rich...We remain attached to these technologies in a way that is clearly affecting the health of the body politic. Newport insists that our Internet-fuelled lack of mental peace and quiet is a better explanation for the current wave of American anxiety than “the latest crisis—be it the recession of 2009 or the contentious election of 2016.”

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