• The Attention Merchants

  • The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
  • By: Tim Wu
  • Narrated by: Marc Cashman
  • Length: 15 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (724 ratings)

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The Attention Merchants

By: Tim Wu
Narrated by: Marc Cashman
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Publisher's summary

From Tim Wu, author of the award-winning The Master Switch (a New Yorker and Fortune Book of the Year) and who coined the term "net neutrality” - a revelatory, ambitious, and urgent account of how the capture and resale of human attention became the defining industry of our time.

Feeling attention challenged? Even assaulted? American business depends on it.

Attention merchant: an industrial-scale harvester of human attention. A firm whose business model is the mass capture of attention for resale to advertisers.

In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of messaging, advertising enticements, branding, sponsored social media, and other efforts to harvest our attention. Few moments or spaces of our day remain uncultivated by the "attention merchants", contributing to the distracted, unfocused tenor of our times. Tim Wu argues that this condition is not simply the byproduct of recent technological innovations but the 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 the explosion of the mobile web; from AOL and the invention of email to the attention monopolies of Google and Facebook; from Ed Sullivan to celebrity power brands like Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian, and Donald Trump, the basic business model of "attention merchants" has never changed: free diversion in exchange for a moment of your consideration, sold in turn to the highest-bidding advertiser. Wu describes the revolts that have risen against the relentless siege of our awareness, from the remote control to the creation of public broadcasting to Apple's ad-blocking OS. But he makes clear that attention merchants are always growing new heads, even as their means of getting inside our heads are changing our very nature - cognitive, social, political, and otherwise - in ways unimaginable even a generation ago.

“A startling and sweeping examination of the increasingly ubiquitous commercial effort to capture and commodify our attention.... We’ve become the consumers, the producers, and the content. We are selling ourselves to ourselves.” (Tom Vanderbilt, The New Republic)

“An erudite, energizing, outraging, funny and thorough history.... 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.” (Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing)

“Illuminating.” (Jacob Weisberg, The New York Review of Books)

©2016 Tim Wu (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

"Tim Wu has written a profoundly important book on a problem that doesn't get enough - well, attention. Attention itself has become the currency of the information age, and, as Wu meticulously and eloquently demonstrates, we allow it to be bought and sold at our peril." (James Gleick, author of Time Travel: A History)

"I couldn't put this fascinating book down. Gripping from page one with its insight, vivid writing, and panoramic sweep, The Attention Merchants is also a book of urgent importance, revealing how our preeminent industries work to fleece our consciousness rather than help us cultivate it." (Amy Chua, Yale law professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and The Triple Package)

"Television entranced the masses. Digital media, more insidiously, mesmerizes each of us individually. In this revelatory book, Tim Wu tells the story of how advertisers and programmers came to seize control of our eyes and minds. The Attention Merchants deserves everyone's attention." (Nicholas Carr, author of Utopia Is Creepy and The Shallows)