Attention as Practice: Buddhist Ethics Responses to Persuasive Technologies

Gunter Bombaerts*, Joel Anderson, Matthew Dennis, Alessio Gerola, Lily Frank, Tom Hannes, Jeroen Hopster, Lavinia Marin, Andreas Spahn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The “attention economy” refers to the tech industry’s business model that treats human attention as a commodifiable resource. The libertarian critique of this model, dominant within tech and philosophical communities, claims that the persuasive technologies of the attention economy infringe on the individual user’s autonomy and therefore the proposed solutions focus on safeguarding personal freedom through expanding individual control. While this push back is important, current societal debates on the ethics of persuasive technologies are informed by a particular understanding of attention, rarely posited explicitly yet assumed as the default. They share the same concept of attention, namely an individualistic and descriptive concept of attention that is a cognitive process, an expendable resource, something that one should control individually. We step away from a negative analysis in terms of external distractions and aim for positive answers, turning to Buddhist ethics to formulate a critique of persuasive technology from a genuinely ethical perspective. Buddhist ethics points at our attention’s inescapable ethical and ontological embeddedness. Attention as practice requires “the right effort” to distinguish desirable and undesirable states, the “right concentration” to stop the flow we are caught in, and the “right mindfulness” to fortify the ability to attend to the present situation and keep in mind a general sense of life’s direction. We offer input for further philosophical inquiry on attention as practice and attention ecology. We put forward comfort/effort and individualism/collectivism as two remaining central tensions in need of further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number25
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Philosophy
Volume33
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Keywords

  • Attention
  • Attention ecology
  • Attention economy
  • Buddhism
  • Persuasive technology
  • Practice

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