Theorizing Digital Distraction

Philosophy and Technology 34 (2):395-406 (2020)
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Abstract

This commentary contributes to philosophical reflection on the growing challenge of digital distraction and the value of attention in the digital age. It clarifies the nature of the problem in conceptual and historical terms; analyzes “freedom of attention” as an organizing ideal for moral and political theorizing; considers some constraints of political morality on coercive state action to bolster users’ attentional resources; comments on corporate moral responsibility; and touches on some reform ideas. In particular, the commentary develops a response to an anti-paternalistic line of argument rooted in Mill’s Harm Principle that would oppose state regulation on the grounds that securing attentional capacities is a matter of personal responsibility alone. The commentary engages throughout with James Williams’s recent work on the attention economy by identifying areas of agreement and difference.

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