Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Economics of Attention by Richard A Lanham arrived at my house yesterday bought online and secondhand from Amazon , recommended by Professor Ronald Soetaert who gave a fascinating talk to members of the EUREAD reading promotion task force in Antwerp last week.

Soetart teaches teachers – his subject is the interconnectedness of different disciplines, and his talk was appropriately wide ranging. He spoke about research showing how a group of teenage Metal fans discuss their favourite music along very similar lines to academics discussing their field. Both groups frame their debate in the context of a canon of great work, a past golden age, an unappreciative general public etc.

Ronald also collects quotes from the many books which describe the great virtue of reading being that it gives one a ‘Second Life’. How come the same people who rave about the imaginary world of fiction find digital play so unnatural?

He’s interested in the complexity of computer games and the energy and intelligence that young people put into exploring them, without any encouragement from teachers or parents. It’s a bit like discovering your child has been locked away in his room secretly learning latin.

And he talked about Lanham’s work on the Age of Information in which what there’s a dearth of is not product but attention. From novelists to manufacturers, everyone is out to catch and claim your precious time. Reading Promotion organizations fly the flag for books not because we love ink, paper and cardboard but because we think reading fiction can capture the attention in a particularly imaginative and profound way. But if we focus on the issue of attention, we’re lead to look at other comparably grabbing activities, and to look at reading as it fits into the midst of our multi-modal lives.

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