13 (Debatable) Theses on Rhetoric and Attention

1. “Your life is the sum of what you focus on…If you paid attention to other things, your reality and your life would be very different” Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, 1-2.

2. “Attentional resources are not infinite.” (Ellis, Y., Daniels, W. and Jauregui, A. (2010). The effect of multitasking on the grade performance of business students Research in Higher Education Journal)

3. “To get our attention, an utterance made during the course of deliberation must fend off competitors such as a person’s preoccupation with certain prior or future events, the simultaneous actions or utterances of others, and even the color of the wallpaper.”—Arthur Lupia, Can Online Deliberation Improve Politics?

4. “The accumulated research [on mass media] of the past several decades confirms that the average audience member pays relatively little attention, retains only a small fraction, and is not in the slightest bit overloaded by the flow of information or the choices available among the media and the messages.” Russell Neuman, The Future of the Mass Audience, 1992, p. 114.

5. Digital media technology produces information abundance, which creates challenges for focusing attention.

6. The internet commands our attention like no other medium before.

7. “The Net seizes our attention only to scatter it…the Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively.” Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, p. 121-2.

8. “While it is probably possible to invent a new rhetoric of hypermedia that will use hyperlinking not to distract the reader from the argument (as is often the case today), but rather convince her of an argument’s validity, the sheer existence and popularity of hyperlinking exemplifies the continuing decline of the field of rhetoric.” Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, 2001, p. 71-2

9. The internet turns us into attention seekers.

10. An “information (or knowledge) economy” has replaced the “industrial economy.”

11. “Economics, in the classic definition, is the ‘study of how human beings allocate scarce resources to produce various commodities and how these commodities are distributed for consumption among the people in a society.’ In an information economy, what’s the scarce resource? Information, obviously. But information doesn’t seem in short supply. Precisely the opposite. We’re drowning in it. There is too much information around to make sense of it all…What then is the new scarcity that economics seeks to describe? It can only be the human attention needed to make sense of information.” (p. 6-7)

12. “Information always comes charged with emotion of some kind, full of purpose. That is why we have acquired it. The only way to make it useful is to filter it. Filtering thus becomes central. And here is where style comes in. We keep striving for “pure information,” but the more information we have, the more we need filters, and one of the most powerful filters we have is the filter of style….The utopia of perfect information brings with it the return of stylistic filtration, of, as it has traditionally been called in Western culture, rhetoric.” Richard Lanham, Economics of Attention, 2006, p. 19.

13. “Rhetoric directs our attention to one way of perception, thinking and feeling and not another. Rhetoric shapes how we attend to phenomena through the valences, emphases, and weightings involved in signification. To say that attention is constitutive, then, is to recognize that how we perceive the world, how we understand our identities and relationships, how we engage in meaning making, and how we transform conventions all derive from attention processes.” Damien Pfister, Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics, p. 31

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