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Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy
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Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  394 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Former Google advertising strategist, now Oxford-trained philosopher James Williams launches a plea to society and to the tech industry to help ensure that the technology we all carry with us every day does not distract us from pursuing our true goals in life. As information becomes ever more plentiful, the resource that is becoming more scarce is our attention. In this 'a ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published May 31st 2018 by Cambridge University Press
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Andrew Howdle
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
An important book with many valid speculations and insights.

Williams takes his title from Diogenes, the prototype internet troll who enjoyed being an irritant to other philosophers. The broad thesis of the book is that "we" are misreading the internet and social media: they are neither knowledge systems nor communicative networks. They are, in fact, ways of attracting attention and re-directing people away from their wills. The "attention economy" is not designed malevolently, yet it does have a
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read in a long time, devoured in one sitting.
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just finished reading this powerful, short (125-page) book about Web technology and the race to capture our attention — i.e. The Attention Economy. So many provocative questions and musings. (The book is also required reading for Princeton’s incoming freshmen.) Highly recommended.
PS: You can download the PDF for free here:
Jasmine Davis
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I struggled between an ok review 3.5 and a good review 4. The subject matter was dry and I felt the book was a bit repetitive and long-winded. I feel like he could have made the same point in less time. I will admit sheepishly that I slept thru chapter 12. Despite the negative, I did find some of the material interesting and many questions and quotes thought-provoking. I did listen to this on Audible (I purchased thru Chirp) I'm not sure If listening vs reading would make a difference in enterta ...more
I Am Watching You
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Attention Economy

In a world in which we are always bombarded by endless distractions (notifications, emails, ads etc.), designed to capture our attention and to keep us hooked (by clicking, scrolling, watching etc.) - how do we maintain our attention (awareness) on the things which matter the most to us? How do we also maintain our capacity for being who we want to be, according to our goals and values? And, most important of all, how do we safeguard our capacities (reflection, reason etc.), which enable us to
Feb 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: good-non-fiction
We spend too much time on our electronic devices. And, what we do is mostly controlled by the way we are subtly and overly manipulated. The book makes excellent points on how pernicious the impacts of such activities are individually as well as for society. The points are not new, but the discussions are forceful and convincing. With over three-quarters of the work focussing on how the online providers are hammering our all-important cognitive attentions, the arguments quickly turn repetitive. T ...more
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
James talks about three types of attention that we can give:
1. Spotlight (our immediate attention - like the next notification on your phone)
2. Starlight (our focus on mid-term goals - like health, personal growth)
3. Sunlight (our focus on values - how we'd like to be, how we'd like to impact the world)
And talks about how each one of them is being systemically compromised in the modern attention economy where perverse design logic and the minutest quantifications of our worst instincts are the t
Doc Opp
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very thought provoking book, that argues that there is an adversarial relationship before most modern digital tech (e.g social media) and our goals - tech is aiming to make money through capturing our attention, and in doing so subverts our abilities to pursue the things that actually matter. The author briefly touches on a number of cognitive loopholes that are often exploited by internet companies, and the consequences for our well being and society for having our attention bandied a ...more
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The author, a former Google executive, wrote this book after completing a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oxford. He successfully submitted the proposal for this book for the Nine Dots Prize, which recognizes original approaches to solving modern problems. The book was the pre-read selection for the undergraduate class entering Princeton University in 2019.

Williams' essential idea is that smartphones and other digital devices are consuming people's attention, diverting them from pur
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Tech companies have long presented their latest technologies and so called "smart" gadgets as tools that help us achieve our goals. The basic argument of this book is that our technologies in fact have an in-built adversarial agenda against us and that, far from being designed as tools that are there to serve us, they are in fact designed with other goals in mind (such as maximizing "engagement"). The author uses the metaphor of a GPS to illustrate this point. When you use a GPS, you expect it t ...more
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic and well referenced discussion of how technologies designed to capture our attention - think Facebook, YouTube, and the like - actually work against our best interests.

As James puts it, these things provide what we *want* - entertainment, opinion, news, etc. - while actually preventing us from getting the things we *want* to want - a better life, deeper understanding, more meaningful relationships - because they dominate our attention. And that attention is a limited resource.

Klaus Hansen
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am a GDPR expert and is naturally drawn to these kinds of books. This one is short, brilliant and really makes you feel and see, what is deeply wrong with the information technology (and why the GDPR is not a solution, but thats another story..). I also love the way it does not pretend to be the final solution - instead the book tries to formulate new ways of thinking about the attention-grabbing technologies and how serious it really is to our democracy. Also, the guy has so much to say, but ...more
Corey Rigley
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very interesting read. James Williams makes the point that latest technology developments are designed to appeal to our lowest instincts to keep our attention for as long as possible. It does because of the financial advertising model it makes money from. James argues that technology can be designed to work towards our most important values, rather than distract and waste our time to make money. He doesn't criticise the need or want to make money - he simply believes technology can be develope ...more
Meg Coulson
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a UX designer, I’ve often found myself wondering about the ethics of what I do but unsure how to describe why I felt so uncomfortable. This book does a good job of describing it.
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Required reading for anyone interested in the perils of the digital attention economy.
Paul Higbee
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: current-affairs
Disappointing. Starts out strong with great insight, stumbles into too much philosophy and ends up with completely impractical solutions.
Carol Wu
Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Google-strategist-turned-philosopher James Williams observes that technologies might be doing more harm than good, since their function is not necessarily to lead us to predetermined goals, but rather to occupy our attention as much as they can. ⁣
Worse, they are absorbing so much of our attention that we’re not only prevented from becoming our most focused selves, but also from even thinking about who we wish to become. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
A societal consequence is the rise of populists includi
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
A book to read and take a pause on digital life.

James Williams hits the bull’s eye with this book when he says this is Age of Attention rather than Age of Information. With so much technology around, we are constantly distracted and it is like blocks falling at us faster than we can handle if we are playing Tetris.

This distraction is what all marketing experts, statisticians, and computer science specialists are trying to achieve with their brilliant minds on us with constant messages, notifica
Daniel Te
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A short, solid book with a nuanced argument on the role of technology in our modern society. I appreciate the last couple of chapters which make sure to clarify that he is not anti-technology nor anti-agency, but rather just wanting to emphasize the systemic factors that threaten to detract from our understanding of self and society at large.

I'm not a fan of the title though. It sounds quite adversarial, when in reality, the book does not suggest that technology necessarily stands out of our lig
Jared Pangier
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not only is this book free (open share) but it is also freeing.

In an Instagram, instant gratification, profit-seeking world, there is very little reprieve from the long arms of technology. With our best and brightest engaged in engaging the masses to turn a buck, what promise is there for a world of meaning? With an overflow of information starving us of our attention, what chance do we stand to focus long enough to find deeper meaning? How is it even possible to delay gratification long enough
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tech
A good contribution to the general discussion of the current tech dystopian age, although less thorough an examination than Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Williams is also much more generous than Zuboff in his assumptions about the motivations of the designers of these modern-day methods of behavioral control, perhaps because he once was one. The vast sums of money at stake never really come into play in Williams's discussion, and he suggests towards the end of the book that some k ...more
Eric Abell
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read this in one afternoon. It was that good.
The highlight of this book for me was how Williams describes three levels of attention distraction: The Spotlight (doing), The Starlight (being), and The Daylight (knowing). This book did for me the same thing that Robert Greene's book The 48 Laws of Power did -- it provides a framework and vocabulary for understanding an environment.

In the case of attention, there is no shortage of writings on how our attention is being targeted and taken from us, pe
Boone Ayala
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Williams’s conclusions and avenues for further work are very hit or miss - I’m particularly skeptical that it’s possible to develop an advertising that is not, by its nature, indifferent to my intentions, and considering this is the greatest problem, I’m worried about what that means for how to fix this. It seems to me that advertising’s goal, fundamentally, is to get me to buy something WHETHER I WANT IT OR NOT. If the ideal advertiser only advertises things I truly want, where will 99% of comp ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
"There’s no such thing as a “neutral” technology. All design embodies certain goals and values; all design shapes the world in some way. A technology can no more be neutral than a government can be neutral." * "What do you pay when you pay attention? You pay with all the things you could have attended to, but didn’t: all the goals you didn’t pursue, all the actions you didn’t take, and all the possible yous you could have been, had you attended to those other things. Attention is paid in possibl ...more
Javier Artiles
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It does articulate a lot of ideas that I believe are only intuitively understood by most people. In that sense it is a valuable read.
I am disappointed at its focus on "naming things" as if it was a requirement for understanding. On contrary, I believe it can detract from it.
The last chapters on potential solutions are quite weak (to be fair, also the most challenging to conceive). I was hoping for a more solid analysis of how economic incentives can be aligned to human well being. The proposal
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
There's nothing particularly ground-breaking here for those who've read around this subject, but the book is very well written and accessible whilst touching upon weighty ideas.

I like William's linguistic analysis of the "information age" and how we're ill-equipped to combat or process much of the internet as we're working with out-moded tools. A longer book could have investigated that further.

Not convinced by all the posited solutions to the new attention economy but this makes for a good, fre
Kevin Haube
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A wonderful, if not daunting, look into the inner workings of the attention economy, our ill-preparedness to handle such rapidly evolving concerns, and what we can do to safeguard ourselves and invoke change. As a software engineer, I’d make a strong case for this to be mandatory reading somewhere in the curriculum of top universities. Ethics is often thrown by the wayside due to its threat to advertising practices that most modern tech companies run on. Ethics should be equally a part of busine ...more
Ann Baxter
Jul 05, 2019 rated it liked it
An academic treatise on the attention economy. I agreed with much of what he had to say, but wasn’t as impressed with the $10 words he used to say it as I’m sure he was expecting. In short, we need to beware of where we allow our attention to go. There are forces out there who don’t have our best interest at heart, rather, there own, and if we give them our attention, we will allow ourselves to be diverted from some of our goals and otherwise better intentions.
Nov 24, 2019 rated it liked it
While being too repetitive for my taste Williams has a point in pointing out that we pay for all the tech around us with our attention but don't get that much out of it. Still, if you read any other book about how the brain/mind works (The Distracted Mind is the first that comes to mind) you know that our minds crave information and new things so it isn't the tech's fault (at least not entirely) that we wasted two hours reading something on Wikipedia instead of getting back to work.
Jan 04, 2020 added it
I don’t know how to rate this book. Partly because I had such a long time in the middle of not reading it. Partly because there’s still a lot to think about. How do we measure what is worth our attention? Should we regulate the design of technological distractions or encourage the individuals to do it? Is it a question of will power? I don’t know my opinions yet so I can’t rate the book. Though it is good that it got me thinking about these things in a different way.
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“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.” 1 likes
“Whether we’re using a slot machine or an app that’s designed to “hook” us, we’re doing the same thing; we’re “paying for the possibility of a surprise.”24 With slot machines, we pay with our money. With technologies in the attention economy, we pay with our attention. And, as with slot machines, the benefits we receive from these technologies – namely “free” products and services – are up front and immediate, whereas we pay the attentional costs in small denominations distributed over time. Rarely do we realize how costly our free things are.” 0 likes
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