Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy

James Williams understands technology. From working with Google to writing about it in his latest book, Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, Williams is a critical and creative thinker.

“My goal is to help them (technology companies) do what they say they want to do which is to make our lives better,” he said. In his talk today at Hay, he analysed some of the problems he believes society is facing in relation to technology, particularly social media. He quoted W. Edwards Deming when he said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

For Williams, the "bad system" constitutes a society in which technology is used as a medium to sell and promote. “In the consumer economy,” he explained, “the user is the product.”

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he touched upon the way in which social media is used to shift society’s political understanding, leading quite naturally to the election of President Donald Trump. “He was more reliant on advertising, I think, than any candidate in history,” he said.  

But Williams is not entirely pessimistic about  our technological future. “It’s not all bad,” he said. However, when an 11 year old girl in the audience told him that she didn’t have a social media presence or a mobile phone, he advised her to consider exactly what she would like from the technology before engaging in it. “We do have more control than we think,” he declared.

If you missed this event, you might also like Event 433, Artificial Intelligence and Our Future, at 2.30pm on Sunday, 3 June. 

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