1 hr 12 min

Your Mind Is Being Fracked The Ezra Klein Show

    • Society & Culture

The steady dings of notifications. The 40 tabs that greet you when you open your computer in the morning. The hundreds of unread emails, most of them spam, with subject lines pleading or screaming for you to click. Our attention is under assault these days, and most of us are familiar with the feeling that gives us — fractured, irritated, overwhelmed.

D. Graham Burnett calls the attention economy an example of “human fracking”: With our attention in shorter and shorter supply, companies are going to even greater lengths to extract this precious resource from us. And he argues that it’s now reached a point that calls for a kind of revolution. “This is creating conditions that are at odds with human flourishing. We know this,” he tells me. “And we need to mount new forms of resistance.”

Burnett is a professor of the history of science at Princeton University and is working on a book about the laboratory study of attention. He’s also a co-founder of the Strother School of Radical Attention, which is a kind of grass roots, artistic effort to create a curriculum for studying attention.

In this conversation, we talk about how the 20th-century study of attention laid the groundwork for today’s attention economy, the connection between changing ideas of attention and changing ideas of the self, how we even define attention (this episode is worth listening to for Burnett’s collection of beautiful metaphors alone), whether the concern over our shrinking attention spans is simply a moral panic, what it means to teach attention and more.

Mentioned:

Friends of Attention

“The Battle for Attention” by Nathan Heller

“Powerful Forces Are Fracking Our Attention. We Can Fight Back.” by D. Graham Burnett, Alyssa Loh and Peter Schmidt

Scenes of Attention edited by D. Graham Burnett and Justin E. H. Smith

Book Recommendations:

Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll

Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter L. Galison

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Rollin Hu and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Isaac Jones and Aman Sahota. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Annie Galvin and Elias Isquith. Original music by Isaac Jones and Aman Sahota. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

The steady dings of notifications. The 40 tabs that greet you when you open your computer in the morning. The hundreds of unread emails, most of them spam, with subject lines pleading or screaming for you to click. Our attention is under assault these days, and most of us are familiar with the feeling that gives us — fractured, irritated, overwhelmed.

D. Graham Burnett calls the attention economy an example of “human fracking”: With our attention in shorter and shorter supply, companies are going to even greater lengths to extract this precious resource from us. And he argues that it’s now reached a point that calls for a kind of revolution. “This is creating conditions that are at odds with human flourishing. We know this,” he tells me. “And we need to mount new forms of resistance.”

Burnett is a professor of the history of science at Princeton University and is working on a book about the laboratory study of attention. He’s also a co-founder of the Strother School of Radical Attention, which is a kind of grass roots, artistic effort to create a curriculum for studying attention.

In this conversation, we talk about how the 20th-century study of attention laid the groundwork for today’s attention economy, the connection between changing ideas of attention and changing ideas of the self, how we even define attention (this episode is worth listening to for Burnett’s collection of beautiful metaphors alone), whether the concern over our shrinking attention spans is simply a moral panic, what it means to teach attention and more.

Mentioned:

Friends of Attention

“The Battle for Attention” by Nathan Heller

“Powerful Forces Are Fracking Our Attention. We Can Fight Back.” by D. Graham Burnett, Alyssa Loh and Peter Schmidt

Scenes of Attention edited by D. Graham Burnett and Justin E. H. Smith

Book Recommendations:

Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll

Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter L. Galison

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Rollin Hu and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Isaac Jones and Aman Sahota. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Annie Galvin and Elias Isquith. Original music by Isaac Jones and Aman Sahota. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

1 hr 12 min

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