November 11, 2016

Pay attention! Credit: Mike Gifford Photography / Flickr Creative Commons

You may still be settling down after the most surprising election night in living memory. But… how exactly did we get here? There’s a long list of reasons why the American public looked at a controversial candidate and said, “Yes, this is the person who should be president of the of the oldest democracy on Earth.” And according to Tim Wu, one of those reasons has to be Trump’s ability to command our attention. Wu is the author of The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, and he explains how advertising companies, tech corporations, and yes, political candidates, compete for our attention.

Three Takeaways:

  • According to Wu, one of the main things this election has demonstrated is that substance, to a certain extent, just isn’t an issue. All publicity is good publicity. Wu says that, “It doesn’t really matter if you are likeable or unlikable, as long as you are watchable, and people want to just see what happens next.”
  • If you want to understand Donald Trump, Wu believes that you should look to reality television. Reality TV, with its constant twists and turns, served as a template for Trump’s campaign, and the President-elect essentially brought his own brand of reality television to the race for the White House. 
  • It’s not just political figures competing for your attention. If you’ve ever opened your laptop for a quick peek at your email and found yourself - 45 minutes later - greedily devouring Twitter updates, you know that it’s easy to give away your attention. Wu argues that, “We live in a life environment that is extremely manipulative. It’s as if we live in a casino.”

More Reading

NPR, Tim Wu, Donald Trump, election, innovation hub, Kara Miller, WGBH, pri

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