Commodified Attention, Commodified Speech, and the Rejection of Expertise

Document Type

Article - Merrimack Access Only

Publication Title

Forum for Social Economics

Publication Date


Abstract/ Summary

In this paper I aim to consider some aspects of the system of communications within which expertise may be created and accepted … or rejected. For speech to be recognized as an expression of expertise, it has to be recognized as making a legitimate truth claim grounded in something other than, and broader than, the speakers’ narrow self-interest. Almost by definition, the content of the truth claims made by an expert are difficult for the nonexpert to assess. To recognize expertise must be an expression of trust. The communications system we inhabit has two features that corrode that trust: commodified access to attention and commodified speech. The advertising industry and the media that serve it treat our attention as a commodity. Attention sellers have developed into niche marketers and attention buyers have developed the practice of placing narrowly targeted orders for eyes and ears. As a result, we are grouped into such different attention clusters, it is nearly impossible for anyone to be recognized as a trustworthy speaker by members of multiple clusters. In addition, much of what we hear is said by people who speak on behalf of others to earn a paycheck. We are continually confronted with speech that is untethered from any authentic speaker—it is neither fully the speech of the buyer nor of the paid producer—and we encounter this speech as members of bundles that are increasingly disjoint from one another. These are not conducive conditions for the cultivation of broadly recognized expertise.