Someone is trying to get inside my head. You think I’m crazy? Well, let me tell you this: someone is trying to get into your head, too. I mean, a whole bunch of really smart, dedicated, creative people are trying to get into our heads. They want to capture and steal our attention. They aren’t bad people; they’re just doing their jobs—and for the most part we go along with it.
That is the thesis of The Attention Merchants, a book by Columbia law professor Tim Wu. The subtitle says it all—“The epic scramble to get inside our heads.” Wu argues “every sliver of our attention is fair game for commercial exploitation.” We are no longer “homo sapiens”; we have become “homo disctractus,” people with an “ever shorter attention span known for compulsively checking his devices.”
Consider the cell phone. Since about 2015, Wu writes, “wither thou goest, your smart phone goes, too, and of course the ads.” We respond to our phones like English butlers responded to their Lord or Lady. Our cell buzzes, our newsfeed fills up, an email comes in, social media dings, and we come running. What is it, my Lord, smart phone, My Lady email or social media?
Does this epic battle matter? Wu, who as far as I know is not a Christian, says, “Our very lives are at stake ... [because] when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to ....” The very last line of the book Wu urges, “We must act … to make our attention our own again, and to reclaim ownership of the very experience of living.” That quote grabs me! Our very lives are at stake. Really? I think Wu is right: ...
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Matt Woodley serves as the Editor for PreachingToday.com and the Pastor of Compassion Ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. He is also the author of God With Us: The Gospel of Matthew (IVP).