Interaction design and user experience, advanced neuroimaging technology, and modern psycho-stimulants are just three contemporary examples of the dispersed complex of knowledge and systems that contribute to what is known as the “attention economy,” the way in which human attention has introduced itself into all aspects social and political life. Attention has become an essential part of practices of consumption, leisure, labor, pedagogy, medicine, psychology, and, of course, media culture. We are currently in an age where attention itself has become intensely valued both as capital and commodity; it is monitored and managed with increased precision and diversification of techniques across all aspects of the social body: it can be observed as technique in the intellectual, service, and industrial sectors of the global economy; in new medical diagnoses, categorizations, and pharmaceutical treatments; and in changing forms of media connectivity and convergence.
This four session course will unpack how the issue of attention has gained currency within a wide array of institutional and cultural practices which are largely a consequence of the way in which biopolitical formations of internalized self-regulation have become vital to the survival of the 30-year turn to global neoliberalism. Dispersed, heterogeneous, de-regulated, de-governmentalized forms capitalization demand new and diversified kinds of self-regulating attentive subjects. The course will move back in time and develop a genealogical study of how the technological management of attention developed into an essential aspect of our current neoliberalist market logic invested in new forms of biopolitical production. The line of genealogical development will unexpectedly begin at the emergence of techniques of localization in the second half of the nineteenth century, which ran parallel to the rise of classical liberalism or the “gilded age” of capitalism. Localization became a defining empirical quest for understanding the physiological operations of the brain according to the “structure-function” dyad, first implemented in the biological sciences and later migrating to other late nineteenth century disciplinary and extra-disciplinary formations of knowledge. The course will then follow this genealogical thread of localization through early twentieth century automation economies, post-war information economies, and conclude with our own late twentieth/early twenty-first century bioeconomies. A parallel thread of emphasis within this genealogical development will detail the impact and effect of media technology upon these rising biopolitical formations to assess their direct participation in the attention economy, concerning itself primarily with the telegraph and telephone, the cinema, television, and finally the Internet and digital communication technologies. Finally, as ballast to this relentless focus on attention, the course will look at its counterproductive other side, boredom, as a resistant and unassimilable aspect to the sustained diversification of techniques of attention. It will explore how boredom becomes viewed—at particular historical moments and within certain disciplines such as pedagogy, social-psychology, and neuroscience—as a malady and a pernicious threat to the “productive” forces of civilization. Conversely, I will look at how another tradition of boredom in art and alternative media culture becomes celebrated as a communal, inter-subjective wellspring of creativity that eludes capital and becomes understood as a source of creative counter-knowledge. The interest here is not to advocate either of these positions, but to simply point to boredom’s inversed isomorphic development to the attention economy.