Event Title

The Attention Merchants and Consumer Protection

Event Series Title

Cleveland-Marshall Fund Visiting Scholar


Tim Wu

Document Type





Author and professor Tim Wu spoke on the value of human attention in the 21st century at the March 25 visiting scholar lecture at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. During the public event sponsored by the Cleveland-Marshall Fund, "The Attention Merchants and Consumer Protection," Wu suggested human attention should be valued as scarce resource.

"Can we treat attention as a scarce resource, and how would society view attention as a resource," wondered Wu.

Due to constantly advancing technologies and merchants becoming increasingly sophisticated at capturing people's voluntary and involuntary attention with advertising, society is distracted as never before. "The bottom line is we have evolved to ignore almost everything," said Wu.

As consumers and businesses adapt to this modern-age concern, Wu feels that computers and other technological tools may begin to be redesigned in certain cases to limit capabilities and force concentration on a given task. As an example, Wu questioned how historical writing may have been hindered if modern distractions, such as social media, were available. He believes as the value of time is further appreciated by writers, that there may be demand for a computer that functions more like a typewriter, to help minimize the distractions currently so readily available.

As legal remediates adjust to time as valuable resource, consumer protection laws may adjust to preserve individuals' time. Wu feels some current laws — nuisance laws and noise ordinances for instance —inadvertently preserve the ability to think, and notes the effect of the ban of cell phones on airplanes has on productivity during flights. A strong advocate against censorship, Wu suggests any movement should be consumer-driven.

Wu is an author, policy advocate and professor at Columbia Law School, best known work for his work on the development of net neutrality theory. His book, The Master Switch was named a best book of the year by the New Yorker, Amazon, Scribes, Publisher's Weekly, and other publications. Wu has also written widely about private power, free speech, copyright and antitrust for media including Slate, the New Yorker, the New York Times and The Wall St. Journal. He has been recognized by Scientific American, National Law Journal, 02138 Magazine, and the World Economic Forum.