Prof. Bullock’s response to Hybrid Assignment 04

In considering what circulates in an attention economy, many of you pointed to the new forms of waste and notoriety that have come with the rise of digital media. Along with this understanding of what digital media generates (more celebrities and e-waste), Taylor suggests, albeit indirectly, that we ourselves are changing.

A pivotal moment in American media history that is mostly forgotten today, Taylor (2014:192) explains how the quiz show affair helped pave the way for public service broadcasting as well as for the principle that there should be clear boundaries that separate programming from marketing and editorial from advertising. But, she argues, digital media is allowing marketers to finally break through the wall that separates art and editorial information from product information. Advertisers no longer have to rely on publications to purchase audiences. The “content industry” has not been abandoned. But content “about the world” is no longer understood as divisible from “what is for sale.”

The Internet appears to be shattering an older, more established form of order that made self-promotion unnecessary and unsavory. But all of this has happened before. Technology commentators invoke Max Weber’s explanation of the Protestant Reformation to celebrate this transformation while Taylor notes a transformation of long-held views about the accumulation of capital in and for itself facilitated by the Reformation (Taylor, 2014:208-9). Accumulation of wealth became attached to a moral vision: a life viewed as both efficient and productive. The accumulation wealth was evidence, therefore, of an individual’s spiritual significance.

Perhaps we should ask whether these two realms (the “existing” world and what is “made for sale”) were ever as clearly distinguishable as we imagine them to be? Are we in the midst of another Reformation today where, with the rise of an “attention economy,” ourselves and our relationships are available for sale?

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