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 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.
Tim Wu is an author, policy advocate, and professor at Columbia University. He has been variously named as one of the leaders in science and technology, one of Harvard's 100 most influential graduates and America's 100 Most Influential Lawyers, and in 2014 and 2015 he was named to the "Politico 50." He formerly wrote for Slate, winning the Lowell Thomas Gold medal for Travel Journalism, and is a contributing writer for The New Yorker. In 2015, he was appointed to the Executive Staff of the Office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.