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The Economics of Attention: Style and…

The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information

by Richard A. Lanham

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Apparently the point of this whole book is nothing more than, 'hey man, style and subtance are both important.' Maybe I'm missing something, maybe that's an oversimplification, but it seems like that's what Lanham's whole 'attention economy' idea boils down to, and I don't know that I believe it deserved a whole book on the subject. The text never offers a very close interrogation of 'style' and how it can lead us to information but also mislead us. What about the downside of style? What about when style is used to drag our attention to worthless content? Or Lanham he arguing that the style itself has enough intrinsic worth that we shouldn't worry too much about the content?

All in all, the book raises some interesting ideas, but ultimately does little with them. ( )
  amydross | Oct 26, 2009 |
an English professor makes giant leaps to make grand statements about writing and information representation in history and in the future. Just too much a stretch to make a coherent point. ( )
  garyfeng | Jun 14, 2007 |
Lanham has been a university professor for about 40-years, Yale-educated, English lit and rhetoric. He came of age pre-computer revolution, when writing meant manual type-writers and white-out and transcription. This series of connected essays are his ideas about what the digital revolution means for the future of books, universities and what he calls "the economics of attention" - how the world operates when information is plentiful and the scarce resource are "eyeballs" (attention). We are flooded with high-quality art, news, books, movies, data of every type - it is not an "information economy" because information is as plentiful as air - the scarce resource is peoples attention. In that environment, style (the wrapping paper, the ornamentation, packaging, literary style, etc..) becomes more important than substance - style is the substance (think for example all the crazy cultural things that come out of Japan - all style, no substance). He also discusses how we interact with things: we look "at" them, or we look "through" them - ie. we enjoy them for what they are, or we analyze them. We read a novel/movie on a literary level and dissect how it was created or and historical context, or we "get lost in the book" and enjoy it for what it is. These two forces are in a constant tug of war with every object we own - cars for example, utilitarian or style (or some combo usually). In the end Lanham concludes it is the liberal arts that will save the day for they are the ones who are trained to filter (critics) and create design and style (the new substance). He also provides the most detailed and lucid explanation I've seen on why paper books have not been replaced by the digital medium. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jul 2, 2006 |
Not yet published
  librarytails | Mar 29, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226468828, Hardcover)

If economics is about the allocation of resources, then what is the most precious resource in our new information economy? Certainly not information, for we are drowning in it. No, what we are short of is the attention to make sense of that information. 

With all the verve and erudition that have established his earlier books as classics, Richard A. Lanham here traces our epochal move from an economy of things and objects to an economy of attention. According to Lanham, the central commodity in our new age of information is not stuff but style, for style is what competes for our attention amidst the din and deluge of new media. In such a world, intellectual property will become more central to the economy than real property, while the arts and letters will grow to be more crucial than engineering, the physical sciences, and indeed economics as conventionally practiced. For Lanham, the arts and letters are the disciplines that study how human attention is allocated and how cultural capital is created and traded. In an economy of attention, style and substance change places. The new attention economy, therefore, will anoint a new set of moguls in the business world—not the CEOs or fund managers of yesteryear, but new masters of attention with a grounding in the humanities and liberal arts. 

Lanham’s The Electronic Word was one of the earliest and most influential books on new electronic culture. The Economics of Attention builds on the best insights of that seminal book to map the new frontier that information technologies have created.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:14 -0400)

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