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In a post showcasing a passage of his recent essay Apocalypse cognitive [Cognitive Apocalypse], sociologist Gérald Bronner discusses attention in the context of an unprecedented infobesity:

The cocktail effect1 illustrates the issues relative to the world’s most valuable treasure. The attraction exerted by screens on our mental availability must not make us forget that these tools are merely an intermediate between us and the cognitive market. They allow us to access more easily and more flexibly a supply which has become plethoric.

Gérald Bronner, 2021

Attention attraction, (mental) availability (cognitive) market, (plethoric) supply: attention is analyzed through an economic lense. Attention is a ressource of great value (a “treasure”), but some corporations have been capable of capturing it, through the brouhaha of our busy lives. Systems and interfaces have been built to incite users to “spend” more of their time within those environments. The economic model of these data corporations translates to billions of profits in advertising, to the eventual harm of autonomies of individuals:

What will capture our attention? Which propositions will snatch our precious available brain time? Which cognitive products will have a concurential advantage on the market of information which has become metastasized?

Gérald Bronner, 2021

  1. Bronner notes on the cocktail effect: “we are capable of having an intelligible conversation because despite this brouhaha, we can select and understand the words of our interlocutor. … Thus, we feel that we are completely immersed in our exchanges. But a few metres away, a stranger pronounces our name, and their voice appears suddenly and clearly apart from the brouhaha. Something in our brain warned us that some piece of information in this confused cluster of phenomena deserved to be consciously treated. This effect, which is named cocktail effect, has been studied for the first time in 1953 by Colin Cherry, cognition specialist at the Imperial College of London.” ↩︎