The Digital Attention Economy: Overcoming Distraction and Thinking for Yourself

September 26, 2019
Poster for the Event "The Digital Attention Economy: Overcoming Distraction and Thinking for Yourself"

Antón Barba-KayAssociate Professor of Philosophy, Catholic University of AmericaMark BauerleinProfessor Emeritus of English, Emory University; Glenn Harlan ReynoldsBeauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law
Moderated by Ana Samuel '00Research Scholar, Witherspoon Institute; Academic Director, Canavox


In the digital age, distraction has gone viral. James Williams, in the 2019 Princeton University Pre-Read Stand Out of Our Light, brings his advertising and philosophizing experiences (from Google and Oxford, respectively) to bear on the question of just what the internet is doing to us. With our quick access to advertising-embedded information, there is always a cost of “paying” our attention, whether it be our time, energy, or our capacity to think critically. These costs subtly reshape our aspirations and beliefs, but can the individual possibly reign them in? And will the decline in critical thinking imperil our democracy? Our panelists will corroborate and challenge Williams’s premises about the perils of connection in the online era and ask how individuals (and societies) can regain their freedom of attention, and thus the freedom to think for themselves.

Antón Barba-Kay is Associate Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, with a dissertation on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The bulk of his research has concentrated on the subjects of recognition and aesthetics in nineteenth-century German philosophy. He has, in another vein, published several essays on matters digital—most recently “The Sound of My Own Voice” (which appeared in Eurozine and The Point)—and is working on a book about what the internet is and what a difference it makes. He was a 2017-18 James Madison Program Visiting Fellow.

Mark Bauerlein is Professor Emeritus of English at Emory University. Previously, he was Senior Editor at First Things magazine and Director of the Office of Research at the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 (2008) and (co-edited with Adam Bellow) The State of the American Mind (2015). His scholarly essays have appeared in PMLA, Philosophy and Literature, Wilson Quarterly, Partisan Review, and Yale Review, and his commentaries and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Weekly Standard, and many other periodicals. His media appearances include Fox News, CNN, NPR, BBC, CBS, The New Yorker Politics and More podcast, and PBS Frontline. He was the 2010-11 James Madison Program Ann and Herbert W. Vaughan Visiting Fellow. He received his Ph.D. in English from UCLA. 

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee. His special interests are law and technology and constitutional law issues. He is the author of The Social Media Upheaval (2019) and An Army of Davids (2006), among many other works. He is the founder of the pioneering InstaPundit weblog and writes a regular column for USA Today. He received his B.A. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

Ana Samuel ’00 is Research Scholar at the Witherspoon Institute and the Academic Director of CanaVox. She completed studies in political theory and sexual ethics at Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame, receiving an A.B. and Ph.D., respectively. She is the mother of six. 


The Digital Attention Economy: Overcoming Distraction and Thinking for Yourself


McCormick Hall 101

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