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Former SOF Member D. Graham Burnett featured on The Ezra Klein Show

Fellows, SOF Fellows

June 3, 2024
Headshot of Burnett

Former Society of Fellows member D. Graham Burnett (1997–1999) recently spoke about how the attention economy is an example of “human fracking” on an episode of The Ezra Klein Show titled, "Your Mind Is Being Fracked."

Listen here or here.

Description from The Ezra Klein Show

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 grassroots, 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.