Category: Things We Think Are Thoughtful

May 22, 2008

The Economics of Attention

The title of Richard Lanham’s new book The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information, got my attention. If anything is a “scarce resource” today, it is mental bandwidth, and Lanham makes a powerful case for how much of our economic and social energy is consumed by the effort to attract attention, as we have moved from being an economy based on “stuff” (substance) to an economy based on “fluff” (style). The core skills in this new economy are no longer the physical sciences, engineering and traditional economics – “The arts and letters now stand at the center.” Every chapter of the book is followed by a section of “background conversations” that serve as hyperlinks or extended footnotes, referencing the books and articles informing and elaborating on the main themes. With a background as a scholar in medieval literature, Lanham’s observations are informed by a deep engagement with Western culture, but the writing is lively and never burdened with excessive erudition.

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