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Eyeball harvesting

The iconic British World War I recruitment poster with Lord Kitchener, which inspired the Uncle Sam "I Want You" poster in the United States.

I wrote a review of Tim Wu's new book on the history of attention capture, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble To Get Inside Our Head, and had fairly mixed feelings about it. Wu offers an interesting account of the past century of people selling our attention to advertisers, from the Mad Men to Google. But he takes an oddly moralistic approach to the contemporary Internet that derails the book's later sections. It's disappointing, given Wu's stature and his valuable contributions as a scholar and an activist, to see him spill so much ink bashing BuzzFeed and selfies.

It's comforting to pretend that the digital sphere is a pure cesspool of narcissism and stupidity, and that we should simply abandon it by returning to more virtuous activities like reading long novels. (This is roughly what Wu recommends in his conclusion.) But for most of us, abandoning the Internet is neither feasible nor desirable. The task ahead is to democratize it.

Read the review at The Guardian.