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The Ezra Klein Show

Your Mind Is Being Fracked

Fri May 31 2024
attentionmanipulationdigital ageadvertisingpsychologyreligionsocietal issueseducationartmusic

Description

This episode explores the concept of attention from historical, psychological, religious, and societal perspectives. It discusses the manipulation of attention in the digital age, the connection between attention and advertising, and the need for attention activism. The episode also examines critiques of attention in public spaces, the impact of technology on attention, and the importance of non-coercive education. It expands the discourse to include art, music, aesthetics, and the School of Attention. The episode concludes with insights on deep listening, creating spaces for activated experiences, and book recommendations.

Insights

Attention is often discussed as a finite resource that needs to be managed wisely

Attention is not always under our control and may be manipulated in the digital age.

The exploitation of attention in the modern world is compared to fracking

High-pressure content is continuously pumped at us to extract our attention for monetization.

Experimental psychology on attention has historical connections to advertising industry efforts

The study of attention has shaped how it is understood and priced today.

Different perspectives on attention exist

Some emphasize agency over focus while others value a more open form of awareness and deeper connections.

Attention has been defined differently by various theorists

Some emphasize triggering awareness into action while others focus on infinite waiting and mirroring connectedness.

Attention has been a topic of discussion in religious traditions

Monastic religious traditions have historically focused on contemplation and attention.

Attention activism is needed to raise awareness about societal issues

The commodification of human attention is seen as detrimental to human flourishing.

Critiques of advertising and attention highlight concerns about societal values

The discourse on attention lacks a clear positive vision, especially regarding education and desire rearrangement.

Education should focus on non-coercively rearranging desires to promote flourishing

There is concern about the lack of paternalism in parenting, especially regarding technology use by children.

The discourse around attention encompasses a broad range of awareness

There is a growing need for collective awareness and emphasis on wellness in attention.

Chapters

  1. Understanding Attention
  2. Critiques and Perspectives
  3. Expanding the Discourse
Summary
Transcript

Understanding Attention

00:03 - 31:39

  • Attention is often discussed as a finite resource that needs to be managed wisely, but it is not always under our control.
  • The way we talk about attention may not accurately capture the experience of it, leading to concerns about its manipulation in the digital age.
  • D. Graham Burnett compares the exploitation of attention in the modern world to fracking, where high-pressure content is continuously pumped at us to extract our attention for monetization.
  • The concept of attention has been studied since the late 19th century through laboratory experiments, shaping how it is understood and priced today.
  • There has been a historical connection between experimental psychology on attention and advertising industry efforts to sell products.
  • Pursuit tests were used to train and assess military aviators' attention capabilities in the interwar period.
  • These pursuit tests involved manipulating an envelope around a moving cursor while being deprived of oxygen and subjected to distractions.
  • Experimental work on attention during World War II focused on optimizing people's ability to pay attention to screens for extended periods, leading to the concept of vigilance decrement.
  • There are different perspectives on attention, with some emphasizing agency over focus and others valuing a more open form of awareness and deeper connections.
  • The conversation around attention involves conflicting projects, with instrumentalized forms of attention coexisting with experiences like meditation and immersion.
  • Attention has been defined differently by various theorists, with some emphasizing triggering awareness into action while others focus on infinite waiting and mirroring connectedness.
  • The concept of attention evolved in the late 19th century due to changing perceptions of human subjectivity and the realization of physiological complexities.
  • Attention is seen as a way for individuals to hold themselves together as one being when encountering the world, with ties to free will and the coherence of the human subject.
  • Attention has been a topic of discussion in religious traditions like Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism for centuries.
  • Monastic religious traditions have historically focused on contemplation and attention, although their understanding may differ from modern concepts.
  • Some 20th-century thinkers, like Simone Vé, have explored the relationship between prayer and attention as a form of radical emptying and openness.
  • Concerns about attention being a moral panic are not new and have surfaced with the introduction of various technologies throughout history.
  • The current commodification of human attention is seen as detrimental to human flourishing, requiring new forms of resistance and attention activism.

Critiques and Perspectives

31:11 - 45:58

  • Attention activism is needed to raise awareness about societal issues.
  • Past moral panics have often been proven right in the long run, leading to negative consequences.
  • Critiques of advertising and attention in public spaces highlight concerns about societal values and impact on individuals.
  • The discourse on attention lacks a clear positive vision, especially regarding education and desire rearrangement.
  • Education should focus on non-coercively rearranging desires to promote flourishing and meaningful human experiences.
  • Education should not be coercive but rather aim to encourage discovery and growth.
  • There is concern about the lack of paternalism in parenting, especially regarding technology use by children.
  • The debate on smartphones and social media's impact on mental health is complex, with differing views on its effects.
  • There is a struggle in society to discuss what constitutes a good life beyond material success.
  • The importance of instilling values like reading books over excessive screen time in children is highlighted.
  • Criticism of neoliberalism and market logic dominating societal thinking, with a call for more focus on virtues and non-market values.

Expanding the Discourse

45:33 - 1:10:08

  • Attention is a crucial aspect that is intertwined with interpretation, meaning, and various forms of awareness and experience.
  • Spaces of art, music, aesthetics, religion, education, and artistic production have meaningful traditions that are non-instrumentalizable.
  • The discourse around attention can be seen as encompassing a broad range of awareness or focusing on specific aspects like cardiovascular fitness.
  • There is a growing need for a collective awareness and emphasis on wellness in attention similar to the rise in awareness around physical fitness over the past decades.
  • The School of Attention aims to provide a diverse range of classes and workshops focused on different traditions to advance the understanding and practice of attention.
  • Exercises at the Stradar School focus on practicing attention together to generate forms of solidarity
  • The deep listening activity involves four phases: listen, recall, discover, and don't listen
  • Participants in the deep listening activity experienced different responses during each phase, such as changing bodily responses and discovering new sounds
  • The piece of music discussed in the podcast is likened to clear cutting a forest, with rising tension and falling silence resembling a system being dismantled.
  • The discovery process involved questioning the sources of sounds and acoustic experiences in the music.
  • Listeners experimented with different ways of engaging with the music, including trying not to listen deeply and using visual stimuli to alter their acoustic experience.
  • The podcast emphasizes the importance of creating spaces for activated experiences within teaching and learning environments.
  • Finding sanctuaries for true attention is highlighted as a way to heal attention and resist distractions.
  • Book recommendations include 'Addiction by Design' by Natasha Dauchul, exploring the engineering of addiction in gambling machines, and 'Objectivity' by Peter Galison and Lorraine Dastin, delving into the history of objectivity in science.
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