Saturday, February 10, 2018

The evils of the "attention economy business model"

A blog maintained by Georgetown computer science Professor Cal Newport is devoted to "how to perform productive, valuable, and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age." In a recent post called "On the Rise of Digital Addiction Activism" Professor Newport discusses a letter sent by Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which both run investment funds that hold about $2 billion in Apple stock, asking the smartphone maker to address the growing concern that kids are becoming addicted to mobile devices much to their detriment.  In his post, Professor Newport says that blaming Apple is misguided; the real culprits are the companies that traffic in the "attention economy" like Facebook, Instagram, and the like who've created free platforms that are engineered to commandeer the user's attention as much as possible resulting in compulsive, addictive behaviors that leave people feeling "exhausted and unnerved at their perceived loss of autonomy." (Professor Newport explains that smartphone makers are the wrong target for the concerns of Digital Addiction Activists because they merely make the devices used to access addictive platforms rather than actively promoting the "attention economy"). Professor Newport goes on to suggest that a day may come where society decides to treat smartphones like cigarettes insofar as they will be considered too hazardous for developing minds to handle until they reach the age of majority. While an intriguing idea, I'm a bit skeptical that it'll gain widespread acceptance. Nonetheless, Professor Newport's blog is definitely worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the debate about technology use in the classroom and its unintended consequences. 


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