The Attention Merchants: a deep dive into the origins of the surveillance economy
Tim Wu is a multiple threat: the originator of the term "net neutrality"; a copyfighting lawyer who cares about creator's rights; a fair use theorist; Zephyr Teachout's running mate in the NY gubernatorial race; an anti-monopolist who joined the NY Attorney General and used open source to catch Time Warner in the act; a lifelong deep nerd who was outraged by the persecution of Aaron Swartz, and the author of one of the seminal books on telcoms policy and human rights.
Now, he's back with his best book yet: The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, an erudite, energizing, outraging, funny and thorough history of one of humanity's core undertakings -- getting other people to care about stuff that matters to you.
Wu's book about ad-tech starts with a history of hucksters, advertisers, con artists, grifters, snake-oil salesmen, and other figures who made it their business to get in your business.
From this history of attention-economics as a social, core human activity, he carefully builds up a devastating critique of ad tech as it stands today, transforming "don't be evil" into the surveillance business model in just a few short years. It connects the dots between the sale of advertising inventory in schools to the bizarre ecosystem of trackers, analyzers and machine-learning models that allow the things you look at on the web to look back at you.
This stuff is my daily beat, and I learned a lot from Attention Merchants. More importantly, Wu has provided a framework for understanding current events in light of wider, historical trends.
Wu -- who has just become a father for the first time -- is planning a very limited tour for the book. If you can make it to one of these events, you really should.
Monday, October 24 WASHINGTON, DC
6:30 p.m. -- Kramerbooks, 1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036
Tuesday, October 25 CAMBRIDGE, MA
6:30 p.m. -- WorkBar, 45 Prospect Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
Wednesday, October 26 TORONTO, CANADA
5:30 p.m. -- Rotman School Event @ University of Toronto, 105 St George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3E6
Saturday, November 5 AUSTIN, TX
11:00 a.m. -- Texas Book Festival, C-SPAN Tent, Austin, TX 78701
Monday, November 14 LOS ANGELES, CA
7:15 pm. -- ALOUD series in conversation with Madeleine Brand
Library Foundation of Los Angeles, 630 West Fifth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Tuesday, November 15 SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Event Details 6pm in progress
Wednesday, November 16 PORTLAND, OR
7:30 p.m. -- Powell’s City of Books, 1005 West Burnside Street, Portland, OR 97209
Thursday, November 17 SEATTLE, WA
7:00 p.m. -- Seattle Public Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave, Seattle, WA, 98104
In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of advertising enticements, branding efforts, sponsored social media, commercials and other efforts to harvest our attention. Over the last century, few times or spaces have remained uncultivated by the "attention merchants," contributing to the distracted, unfocused tenor of our times. Tim Wu argues that this is not simply the byproduct of recent inventions but the end result of more than a century's growth and expansion in the industries that feed on human attention. From the pre-Madison Avenue birth of advertising to TV's golden age to our present age of radically individualized choices, the business model of "attention merchants" has always been the same. He describes the revolts that have risen against these relentless attempts to influence our consumption, from the remote control to FDA regulations to Apple's ad-blocking OS. But he makes clear that attention merchants grow ever-new heads, and their means of harvesting our attention have given rise to the defining industries of our time, changing our nature--cognitive, social, and otherwise--in ways unimaginable even a generation ago.
The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads [Tim Wu/Knopf]
(Image: Luma Partners)
Los Angeles! Come see me at Exposition Park library this Thursday, talking about Big Tech, monopolies, mind control and the right of technological self-determination
From 6PM-730PM this Thursday, May 23, I'm presenting at the Exposition Park Library (Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Regional Library, 3900 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90062) on the problems of Big Tech and how the problems of monopolization (in tech and every other industry) is supercharged by the commercial surveillance industry -- and what […]
Bernie Sanders' "Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education" will desegregate schools, defund charters, pay teachers, end the school-to-prison pipeline
Bernie Sanders has released A Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, a detailed and bold suite of public education reforms reminiscent of the kinds of policy planks being laid down regularly by rival candidate Elizabeth Warren (I'm a donor to both Sanders' and Warren's campaigns).
Wil Wheaton's 2017 standalone novelette Dead Trees Give No Shelter is a beautiful, spooky horror story in the vein of Stranger Things, following Jay Turner as he returns to the small Ohio town where his baby brother was murdered, 20 years before, to witness the execution of his killer.
Kudos to those of us who have chosen a less wasteful third option to “paper or plastic” at the supermarket or club stores. Tote bags are reusable, but they can be a pain to tote around. Here’s an upgrade to that planet-saving measure. The Club Cart Lotus Trolley Bag is that rare tote you’ll want […]
Looking for a career in IT, gaming or software development? In the ever-changing world of the internet, versatility is your biggest asset. In other words, mastering Java might not cut it in an interview if you don’t know C#. However, there’s a bundle that covers the essentials in most any language. The Legendary Learn to […]
Getting a set of cookware that will outlast you is one of those signs you’ve truly grown up. It used to be easy to find durable materials that also cook well, but these days it can be hard to tell what’s quality and what brands are coasting by on a recognizable name. Well, there’s at […]