THR Web Features   /   March 9, 2015

Toward an Attentional Commons

Illustration © Lee Woodgate, The Hedgehog Review, Summer 2014. ( © Lee Woodgate)

Matthew Crawford, author of the bestselling Shop Class as Soulcraft and a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, touched on one of the key points of his forthcoming book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), in a recent commentary for the New York Times:

Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.

What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common? Perhaps, if we could envision an “attentional commons,” then we could figure out how to protect it.

Crawford explored the intellectual genealogy of this crisis in his essay for our summer 2014 issue,  "How We Lost Our Attention.”

Crawford will discuss his book with media studies scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan on opening day (March 18) of the  Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia. Media.  The evening event is free and open to all, but advance registration is required.

Back issues of The Hedgehog Review's summer 2014 issue, Minding Our Minds, are available for $8.