Pay attention, please

bruce-nauman-pay-attentionHenry Farrell has an interesting paper in Democracy about the emergence of a new breed of technology intellectuals:

Technology intellectuals work in an attention economy. They succeed if they attract enough attention to themselves and their message that they can make a living from it. It’s not an easy thing to do:

TED is the apex of this world. You don’t get money for a TED talk, but you can get plenty of attention

Slaves to the means which allow them to grab massive public attention, they help spread a culture of conformity instead of genuine debate about how communications technology is reshaping society:

New intellectuals disagree on issues such as privacy and security, but agree on more (…) Most technology intellectuals agree on most things. They rarely debate, for example, how private spaces governed by large corporations such as Google and Face-book can generate real inequalities of power,

In a better world, technology intellectuals might think more seriously about the relationship between technological change and economic inequality,

They might think more seriously about how technology is changing politics. They might pay more attention to the burgeoning relationship between technology companies and the U.S. government,

Farrell wonders whether a true high-minded criticism is economically sustainable:

The difficult part is figuring out how genuinely contrary and interesting intellectuals can support themselves in a tacit economy that seems geared either to co-opt them or turn them into professional controversialists.

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Bruce Nauman, Pay Attention, 1973

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