Escaping an attention economy

Scott Beauchamp writes on Kwon Yong-suk “jail-like retreat” in South Korea as a means of escape from a culture of overwork:

South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. It’s also one of the most overworked. … in that light, a controlled, prison-like environment almost makes sense as an alternative to the empty freneticism of daily life in South Korea. It might help to think of the faux-jail alternative as more of a monastic experience than a penal one. The community that networked lives offer, besides being a simulacrum of the real thing, comes at the cost of anxiety, addiction, the cultivation of shallowness, and total burnout. The reassuring silence of a concrete cell seems like a welcome alternative to an artificial, technology-addled paradise.

One of the interesting aspects of this story is that it’s an example of technological saturation having the opposite effect on culture as what was promised last century. More and better technology, particularly the social networking kinds of tech that so intimately penetrate our daily lives, were supposed to, at a minimum, make us feel less lonely and give us more and better leisure time. The results have been the opposite. We’ve never been lonelier. And never before have the most intimate parts of our lives been so thoroughly measured, recorded, and curated for profit.

As Columbia professor Jonathan Crary writes in his book 24/7, the most cutting-edge global corporations depend in large part on how many “eyeballs” they can “engage and control.” We’re now living in what he calls an “attention economy” in which corporations vie for the most efficient modes of quantification, prediction, and control of our moment-to-moment whims. This process is constant and unrelenting. “Of course, there are breaks,” Crary writes, “but they are not intervals in which any kind of counter-projects or streams of thought can be nurtured and sustained. As the opportunity for electronic transactions of all kinds becomes omnipresent, there is no vestige what used to be everyday life beyond the reach of corporate intrusion. An attention economy dissolves the separation between the personal and the professional, between entertainment and information, all overridden by a compulsory functionality of communication that is inherently and inescapably 24/7.”

The result of this cannibalization of our attention, of our very lives, is a word that’s been used a few times already: burnout.

The reassuring silence of a concrete cell seems like a welcome alternative to an artificial, technology-addled paradise.”

Discover more from Tom Shakely

Subscribe (free or paid) to keep reading and get full access.

Continue Reading