Consumers Are in a Crisis of Attention - eMarketer

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Consumers Are in a Crisis of Attention

September 11, 2015


Matthew B. Crawford
Author
“The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction”

Matthew B. Crawford's book, “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction,” documents the many ways that our attention gets chewed up and spit out on a daily basis. Naturally, that includes ads. Crawford is an advocate for people who want to "take back" their attention—and given the consumer interest in ad-blocking software and digital detox retreats, we thought his perspective would be especially relevant for eMarketer Attention! 2015. We caught up with him in advance of his keynote to get some quick thoughts about attention and online advertising.

eMarketer: You're an attention advocate. Does that mean you stay up to date on advertising trends and technology?

Matthew B. Crawford: I stay up to date only in the sense that I am subject to them, like everyone else. As a writer, I tend to be especially alert to the more aggressive forms of advertising in public spaces, because their presence indicates something about how we understand the idea of a "public." It was once an idea that had a certain dignity to it, but it seems to have evaporated as our shared cognitive space gets colonized by private commercial interests.

eMarketer: What inspired you to write "The World Beyond Your Head"?

“[W]e are living through a crisis of attention, and...it is only superficially due to technology.”

Crawford: It was my sense that we are living through a crisis of attention, and that it is only superficially due to technology. It becomes more comprehensible when understood as the culmination of a long cultural trajectory in which our experiences are increasingly manufactured for us. It's an argument for reclaiming the real.

eMarketer: What do you think about the Internet of Things and connected cars? Connected houses and appliances? What kind of impact will these developments have on consumer attention?

Crawford: As things get more complicated, and less self-contained, it will be harder to be responsible for your own physical environment. So I suppose the effect will be to lead us even further into passivity and dependence—an expansion of the domain of life that we hand off to experts. Our attention will then be more free for amusements, which we will choose from an ever-expanding menu of options.

eMarketer: So what do you think about ad-blocking? Is it inevitable?

Crawford: It sounds like the beginning of an unpleasant arms race.

eMarketer: Are there any ads that you do like? Do you think we can strike a balance as an industry between being intrusive and actually getting people information they want?

“[O]f course some ads are brilliant—consider how the spirit of sports shines through in Nike and Gatorade ads.”

Crawford: Yes—shampoo ads! I can't get enough of them. And of course some ads are brilliant—consider how the spirit of sports shines through in Nike and Gatorade ads. They feel like a tribute—to human beings, and their struggle for superiority. They're so undemocratic! I mean that in the best way.

Matthew B. Crawford will be the opening keynote speaker at eMarketer Attention! 2015, our October 27 event in New York.

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