Former Google strategist, now Oxford-trained philosopher James Williams argues that a next-generation threat to human freedom has emerged in the systems of intelligent persuasion that increasingly direct our thoughts and actions.
As digital technologies have made information abundant, our attention has become the scarce resource –and in the digital “attention economy,” technologies compete to capture and exploit our mere attention, rather than supporting the true goals we have for our lives. For too long, we’ve minimized the resulting harms as “distractions” or minor annoyances. Ultimately, however, they undermine the integrity of the human will at both individual and collective levels.
Liberating human attention from the forces of intelligent persuasion may therefore be the defining moral and political task of the Information Age. Drawing on insights from ancient Greece as well as Silicon Valley, Williams’s thoughtful and impassioned analysis brings much needed clarity to one of the most pressing questions of our time.
This title is also available as Open Access.
Today, the right sort of redesign is not yet in fashion. My purpose here has been to identify and advance it as best I could in the time and space I had. I have also sought to encourage and guide the attention of others who share my deep concern about this vast infrastructure of technological persuasion we have inherited – but who, also like me, take solace in encountering others on this road who see the same problems, and respond to them with the same vigor of inquiry that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy in the writing of this book.
In order to do anything that matters, we must first be able to give attention to the things that matter. It’s my firm conviction, now more than ever, that the degree to which we are able and willing to struggle for ownership of our attention is the degree to which we are free.