Economics of Attention Ch 5-8

Barbie as Metaphor for Digital?

Barbie as Metaphor for Digital?

Chapter 5

In Chapter 5, Lanham attempts to highlight the two different ways of seeing once again, through an at or through form of attention. Focusing in one way tends to mean we don’t focus in the other way. For example, Lanham gives the research who specializes in a topic, and can even teach that topic well, but struggles to put it in context in a survey course of his or her field. Here he focuses on the joy available through play – of living life working at something rather than thinking about the success that comes through something. Interestingly, the example he gives of play is the geneticist Barbara McClintock, who was extremely dedicated to her research – “the pure ‘joy of the working'”. Yet, he highlights how alone she was, with no personal attachment: “‘There was not that strong necessity for a personal attachment to anybody. I just didn’t feel it. And I could never understand marriage.'” (p. 185). I have really struggled with Lanham’s selection for play here as solitary, and ultimately, lonely. Yes, if we enjoy our work, it can be a form of play, but is it necessary to do this at the expense of attachment to others? Is there not room enough in life for multiple forms of joy? Joy from work, joy from friends, joy from loved ones, joy from leisure? For me, this example side-tracked the entire discussion on play, and in some ways seemed to contradict his earlier explanation of what play even is.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is a reworking of an article the author wrote for the Houston Law Review, regrading the debate of copyright and the Dead Sea Scrolls, featuring Barbie as a main character in the play-like format and serving as a metaphor for the digital. The main argument here is tension between the nature of the digital, which is easily reproducible, and the nature of capitalism which wants to capture value. Brands are valuable, and need to capture the value from all possible uses. But this is difficult to do in a digital world:

How can you separate idea from expression when the digital code, the idea, continually generates different expressions? Does the digital code’s owner own all the possible expressions that might be created from it? That would be “owning the conversation” indeed. (p. 205).

Chapter 7

This chapter was, for me, perhaps the most intriguing, as it deals with the future of academia.

The first assumption that the author claims is challenged by the digital is that the ideal education is face-to-face, ala the Socratic Method. He debunks this by claiming – with not a single cited source – that early reports suggests students feel they learn more and are more at ease online than in person. Lots of issues here…

1. What sources? 2. Does students thinking that they learn more mean they actually learned more? 3. Is being at ease a good thing? In many ways I think education should be challenging and force students to exist in a zone of discomfort to truly be successful. I tend to want to say that if you’re completely at ease, you’re not learning very much. 4. Finally, my knowledge of research seems to suggest that online courses only work well for those who are already privileged and capable students who can study on their own. They do much less for students who actually need teachers.

Another assumption the digital challenges is that faculty should be employed full time by universities. Lanham sees the potential to move backward to the medieval model where professors were entrepreneurs and students paid them directly. The university provided the space. Of course, the problem with this is that the education that is popular is what survives. I can only imagine the plethora of creationism courses that would thrive in such a system in modern America.

Although these two assumptions stood out most to me because of the potential problems, the other assumptions are well worth the read.

Chapter 8

This chapter focuses on the way that the digital has allowed us to build a revisionist mentality directly into the creative process. For example, in constructing this blog entry, I can easily back up and change any sentence at any time. I don’t write an entire draft and then go back and revise. I revise as I go, which is a big shift.

As a society that’s used to facing scarcity, we’re now challenged with plentitude. Lanham argues that we must find ways to turn that back into scarcity. We do this by thinking as revisionists, rather than through stasis. We focus on continual readjustments and the relationships of things to one another.

This, then, is the economics of attention.

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