Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
morten axel Pedersen (University of Copenhagen)
How are we as scholars (and citizens) going to deal with the ever more alluring distractions of attention in the age of smartphones and other digitized technologies? In this presentation, we outline the research project DISTRACT. Combining qualitative and quantitative data and methods, DISTRACT explores the mental, social and material techniques by which attention is captured, retained and deflected in digitised Denmark. The project combines cutting-edge social data science with classical social theory to address a great and pressing societal and scientific challenge, namely what might be referred to as the ever more powerful “weapons of mass distraction” (to paraphrase O’Neil 2016) with which we are confronted in the age of big data. At issue is the escalating economic hype and moral panic revolving around the power of digital devices to capture and divert our attention. It is probably no exaggeration to say that attention and its distraction has become the primary object of not just moral panic (e.g. Douthat 2017), but also of capitalist imagination in the global “data economy” - an issue, that is, around which multifarious ethical, social, technological, political and economic concerns congeal. Data is hardly a scarce resource. On the contrary, its ubiquity is one of its defining characteristics (Economist 2017, Falkinger 2008). Attention, on the other hand, is much like the new oil. As “the scarcest and most fervently desired resource” it is “the crucial resource of our epoch” (Citton 2017: 8, 10).