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tv   After Words with Tim Wu  CSPAN  January 20, 2017 9:40am-10:42am EST

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presidential library and national archive on their efforts to preserve ten of franklin d. roosevelt's most important speeches. >> what's left in the film is based on historical significance, frequency of how often they're requested and quality of the footage as well. >> and at 8:00 on the presidency, the tgill universit from president harry trueman to barack obama. >> i said i would commit political suicide if i didn't support this. is audience participation part of a program? it was said next slide, jimmy carter in 1977, fooled ya. >> for complete american history tv schedule, go to c-span.org.
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>> well, tim, the attention mar chants, the ethics scramble to get inside our head. historical perspective going way back to the early days of newspapers. what inspired you to dive in this way and go so far back to track how our taeattention is getting captured? >> i believe it's by history and it came to me that writing this book or the reason was i noticed how much of our life is driven by models. it used to be just either the media or newspapers, things like that. google, facebook, all of the internet sites, but i also think i had this experience which may be other people have had as well where i increasingly found i
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would sit down at my computer and maybe try to write one e-mail and four hours going by, like in a casino or something. they call it the casino effect and i said, got kind of strange. this ad model where the idea to resell your audience to other people as opposed to have them buy the product itself. always seemed to be counterintuitive. i started thinking about, where did this really start? who invented this? and that led me on a search and i had kind of roman times, no,r less 19th century in new york so that's what kind of made me go back. it was like the search for the beginning of the river nile. where this advertising come from? that's what i want to know. >> why was it then in new york, do you think? >> that's a great question. i think it was a number of factors. you started having cities that
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were really large and enough population that they could address it through a newspaper advertisement and get results. and also a lot to do with the printing press and the spread of early newspapers. the newspapers before the advertising were more expensive at the time. and i guess it was just sort of an entrepreneurial spirit in this country that drove it. so, you know, these things all added up about the same time to call public opinion or mass media advertising based media. >> early on in the book, you introduced this idea that there are occasional revolts against the advertising culture, the methods that advertisers are using to capture our attention. times when perhaps they go too f far. how many of these revolts have
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there been and are we close to another one now? >> at least five or six revolts, sometimes individual areas of cities, so it's kind of hard to count them but there's really big ones nationwide. the depression, really big ones in the '60s. depends how you count the whole beginnings of the internet and i think we're in one now. the pattern. >> you say the '60s? >> yes. >> many viewers will remember the '60s. what do you turn as the advertising revolt that happened? >> i would put it in timothy leary's phrase, tune in, turn on. i'm going to forget the lin goe but many viewers may remember that advertising was the devil, commercialism ruined television, ruined radio. it was time to get away from the big corporate speakers and spend more time with family sitting in
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circles with guitars and with each other and the basic tenets. he really believed that the point of the counterculture was to move away from commercial source of information and advertising and a spiritual direction and use a lot of lsd to get there which didn't count on, he really believed, he thought this was the technology that will deliver us from commercialism and advertising but turned out to be more odd and didn't take off as much as he thought. and about an intentional revolution but to get back a little bit with how these revolts happen. but i'll say what happened. advertising has never really been that popular. you know, it's not always there but it was invented and one of
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the reasons is it is an industry that is harvesting your own mind and own attention so it is by its nature always intrusive, always a little distracting, always trying to do something you wouldn't necessarily do otherwise. if you were, you don't need advertising. so always at the edge and in france, very interesting. we think of the posters, not a big deal to have a poster but in france, turn of the 20th century, people said, we've got enough of these posters everywhere. there's too many. and because they're french people, they said, they're ugly so they should be banned. france has expansive regulations in play of where posters could be in the season which may be a reason it still is a very beautiful place. severely limited in where you can advertise. >> so you start with newspapers
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in the 19th century and then radio. >> yes. >> and at first, people think, radio? not going to be a great medium for advertising but they were wrong. amos and andy. what happened there? >> people, there was a period in the 1910s where people thought the movie would be free and you would watch ads during the breaks at the beginning. and that would be how they pay for it. those failed so it's not going to make any money for it. so radio for 8 or 9 years, with
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more or less depending on the commercial free or non-commercial, but the very first big hit that radio truly put together was the amos and andy show. originally a chicago show but the idea of the show, two white guys speaking in what they considered to be negro accents and one grown up in the south. and they had this ongoing plot. it was 15 minutes every day at 7:00 p.m., about the two black men who were new to harlem and kind of rough stereotypes. became the first must-see or must listen radio. in some ways, invented prime time by themselves and even schedules rearranged and this
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before the movie. because otherwise, wouldn't go to the movie theater. and based on the guys that were hilarious. a ritual of prime time that has an effect on our lives or has had for the whole last half century. >> what was it as we think now of being primetime television? >> about the same, after dinner. 7:00. slightly earlier than but i think more, it's a ritualistic that your evening would be spent with the radio, later, the television. and that idea went further in the 1950s when television actually appeared and "i love lucy" and "ed sullivan" and a big show for every evening. but at the time, ratings were weird but an estimate of 40 million to 50 million viewers evening single day, really established something.
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and it's kind of amazing. imagine one show with 50 million, every single day. that's like half the super bowl or like every day, one show. it's incredible media success. >> i would have called you out for saying viewers when you meant listeners but you have meant viewers because one of the things that a researcher noticed at the time is people would stop what they were doing and look at the radio while this was on, unlike how they behaved when music was on. why was that and what did that indicate about the potential of radio to capture attention? >> this is the great point. with amos and andy, people were gathered around the radio, listening in rapt attention, able to compete against dinner conversation. before that, radio had been a background thing.
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maybe music in the background, jazz or classical music quietly playing. this was something different. and this suggested, as nbc and cbs later said, we have the audience in their home listening and utterly opening the portal of judgment to you. this is a perfect way to reach your customers. and, in fact, it was. >> the key words there were in their home. >> yes, that's right. so before amos and andy, before radio, the idea of advertising to people so blatantly in their home as something that came in seemed absurd to people, no one will tolerate that kind of thing. this difference between inside and outside private and public was i think more pronounced. but somehow, unbidened, brought in voluntarily, and that's how it happens in our time, advertisers apenetra s had pene
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the inner sanctum. after they did amos and andy, the successor, interesting, the goldbe goldbergs, a show premised on the idea that jewish people were funny. then an irish show. so all of the early capture of attention in the united states, you know, the protestant majority, was based on the idea that irish, black, or jewish people was funny and that's how the west was won or how the home was conquered. >> clearly we have moved far beyond those ideas of what's funny, perhaps not. hit the rewind button for me on tim wu. tell me, when was your first experience that you recall with mass media? what captured your attention as a kid? >> that is a great question. the other day i was sitting there, and i realized that somehow i had memorized every single one of the sugar cereal
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jingles. i was thinking frosty, lucky charms, magically delicious, the honeycomb kid, you know, sugar -- snap, crackle, pop, not that sugary. >> rice crispies. >> when you read -- when you watch tv, you'll realize there is much more effort put into the advertisements than into the programs. as a child, i had a particularly, for some reason, at that and sitcoms which were popular at the time, three's company as a child, i guess i was a little more of an adolescent, mr. kotter. >> after school. >> whatever it was, i would watch it. i had the pure -- there wag something different back then. today we're talking about revolts. most people i know do anything they can to avoid advertising. when i was a kid, we sit there and sit through the
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advertisements and that's the way it was. in the 1950s, my research, people would talk about how they watched television. and they would turn off all the lights. not everybody, but many people turn off the lights and sit there through the ads and consume it absolutely. before remote control. today, if there is an ad, i switch the channel or turn it off. it was a difference. i think it is the -- it lead to our current lifestyle. >> so you remember the jingles. i assume you were probably watching some cartoons in there somewhere too because that's where they would put -- that's where they would put the commercials. how did your parents respond to the demands that came as a result of the watching of commercials? >> my mother, you know, she held firm against sugar cereal and i remember it being intensely disappointing. i also remember -- i thought it
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was very -- as a youngster, there was a character, like a red bird-like character, you know, know him as woody woodstock, that all the kids were talking about. i had no idea who it was. i pleaded to my mother that i lacked basic media literacy that everybody knew this red wood yy woodstock. we didn't have cable. we were broadcast people. all the good cartoons were on cable, of course, no question. so, yeah, i basically fell for, you know, whatever it was. what passed for children's programming at the time, which was cartoons and sugar cereal commercials. i think i also watched sesame street, which i loved. sesame street itself had mock-ups of advertisements. if you remember, it would be like today is sponsored by the letter a and the number 5 or something. so "sesame street" had the idea of using advertising content to get children interested and
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learning. that worked, in my memory. it was in fact better than the other shows. but, you know, that was my -- that was my childhood. i was raised in this situation just like everyone else. one thing i'll last say about that. i didn't realize this at the time, but there were shows like the transformers, i don't know if you remember the robots. >> oh, sure. >> i didn't -- gi joe, i didn't think of them as advertisements. but you think of it for a minute, of course they're advertisements for toys and we bought the toys. same with mtv, which was the video -- one day it donned on me the videos were actually trying to get you to want to buy the album and so on or make the song popular. it a steady stream of advertising. maybe that's why i wrote this book. >> there is this idea that
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advertising to children, this idea is still around, is fundamentally different from advertising to adults. there are certain lines that are not supposed to be crossed. there are certain rules about the sorts of images and placement. and the "sesame street" mention brings that to mind. there was an idea that was a protected space, like the home perhaps was a protected space before radio got mature. is that still the case with children? are there new rules of the road? what is happening there? >> i think things have gotten a little better than they used to be in the 1980s. this goes up and down, depends on the administration speaking legally. i think there is broad spread fence among scientists and pediatricians that, you know, not only are children more susceptible to advertising. but in fact screen time is not even good for children. i think it was the last couple
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of days the american association of pediatricians said you should limit your children to no more than one hour a day of television. by that rule, myself and other people, in our generation were -- had our minds blown already, it is amazing we can function anymore. but i think children are generally, you know, understood to be more credulous. you certainly absorb -- if you absorb a brand as a child, this is one reason branding in particular is always a brand -- always been particularly focused on children because brand association from a young age, i'm not a neuroscientist, straightforward logic tells you that a brand association, coca-cola, heinz, cadillac, bmw, whatever it is, once you have that in your head as something of quality or value, it will stick. my daughter, who is 3, recognizes delta airlines, skype, recognizes all these various logos, uses the word
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facetime. i think this has always been a concern. the extent to which it is regulated or overseen depends on the administration. i think things were kind of in the 50s and 80s an all time low in terms of how much oversight there was in sort of everything goes. and i think there is more attention paid to what -- how much advertising children get today. that's happening. on the other hand, sorry to go on a bit there has been an increase in the last half decade of advertising in schools. and maybe that's something, yeah, want to talk about, that because there has been such a decrease in public funding, some public schools, especially in poor areas, have become so desperate, they started selling out the inside of the school for advertising purposes. so you can see pictures, some schools in minnesota, some in california, where the very halls, the lockers are covered in banner ads so you walk through the school and it is a
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constant advertising experience. so that's a trend in the opposite direction. >> how does that work? >> what's that ? >> how well does that work? >> these schools need millions of dollars -- how well does it work? how well does it work for saving schools? i don't think they make that money much. they made millions and getting hundreds of thousands in advertising revenue. but maybe at the margins. so, you know it goes back to this idea of there being certain spaces that were once sort of vacati sacred that are i think are being increasingly commercialized on the edges. one of the things i read about doing research for this book, another space you think there would never be advertisement is churches. but there are, you know, not all the time, but there are efforts by hollywood filmmakers to try to put product placements in the sermons.
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so, for example, the man of steel, when it came out, superman movie, they had a lot of screenings for pastors. they had the sermon provided, jesus first superhero, sometimes they had contests, mail-in you used the name of our movie in your sermon and enter a draw for money or free trip. so there is even efforts to try to get church audiences. what i'm saying is a lot of the sacred spaces have become challenged in our times. >> right. and, i mean, interesting you mention in the book that some of the early language around advertising and the idea of capturing attention was something that churches really use -- it is interesting, too, that there is this move within even religious organizations in some cases to adopt the same sorts of attention grabbing
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methods that have now been pioneered in the broader society. >> if you want to talk about deep history, lengthy history, many of the modern attention gaining techniques belong to organized religion. the word propaganda itself was invented by the catholic church. i believe the jesuits and the sense of propel gating the faith, part of the reformation. when we talk about trying to fight for attention, trying to make audiences on a regular basis pay some attention to a message, certainly organized religion got there first. one of the themes of my book and i think the themes of the last 200 years is this sense that our consciousness or our mind space of what we think about was something that organized religion was the most focused on for most of human history and the last 200 years or so
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government propaganda and commerce or industry through advertising got in on the game. and so you could -- another way of describing what i'm trying to discuss in my book is a long-term, let's say, contest or competition between organized religion on the one hand, government and industry, all of whom want to get at this thing called our time, attention, consciousness, and the bottom line is that churches have -- other organized religion have been losing that -- one of the reasons they're adopting these techniques, you know, modern advertising techniques is they have to compete. they can't expect people to show up just because we feel bound to it. they're in intense competition. churches are competing with sunday football, for one example, to put this straightforward. a lot of stuff on your weekend, and they're in a desperate competition.
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i think also one reason churches have become a little more -- here's what's in it for you, you know, come to church and feel good, you'll feel prosperous. i'm not an expert on religion. but my sense is that the older idea was you better come to church or you're going to face eternal damnation. more contemporary feeling, come to church, a space to relax, maybe become rich, some prosperity theories. here's what's in it for you. and that's a change. >> follows a similar trajectory to how you talk about advertising developing from this will cure what ails you and save you from death to it will help you to live a better life. i want to turn to -- you mentioned government. and you bring up in the book that government was an early innovator in marketing and capturing attention.
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the uk in particular britain versus germany was able to capture mass attention and get people to do something that had not been done before on a mass scale. what exactly was that achievement and how did it come about? >> that achievement is otherwise described as world war i propaganda of which great britain was the inventor of mass systemized propaganda and the master of it in first world war. britain had this particular problem that caused it to invest so deeply in propaganda. unlike other countries, they didn't use conscription. there it is. great britain declared war on the german empire. they had an army, depend how you estimate it, 100,000, couple hundred thousand, german imperial army was 4 million
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people. they had overrun, i don't know how many countries already. so here is britain. no army. most -- many other soldiers were overseas anyway. and they need to do something. and so they come up with the first systemic mass recruitment campaign pursued through posters, leaflets, marches, other tactics, with all the resources of government. and it is incredibly successful. you're asking people to volunteer for an army, where within a short time it became fairly clear that you had a pretty good chance of being killed or dismembered or permanently injured if you went to the front. nonetheless, they managed to recruit almost within months a million people. ultimately i can't remember the exact statistics, but something like maybe a quarter or half of the british population was in the british male population in the armed forces during world
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war i. so industry, and part of this book is there is this conversation between religion, industry and government. so industry, before world war i, kind of skeptical of advertising, it was seen as something used to sell patent medicine, low grade products, brushes, the way people -- >> you say patent medicine -- >> cure alls. >> snake oil. >> literal snake oil, right. more than one type. competing snake oils in fact, but snake oil, longevity potions, that was the domain of advertising, cons, one kind or another. when a respectable company was going to invest in. britain and the united states as well, went whole hog with their advertising and when it was so incredibly successful, industry took notice and said, you know what, this stuff team seseems t and is legitimized by the
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government's usage. the real birth of advertising is in the 1920s with the birth of the big ad agencies, the center -- the growth of madison avenue, london, paris, other places as the center of an industry which is dedicated to the systematic development of advertisements over and over that will keep you buying stuff. that's how that -- >> is it a coincidence that 20s are the age of the rise of mainstream advertising and also women's suffrage? >> that's an interesting question. well, we -- don't know completely if it is a coincidence. but we do know the advertisers in this period decide that the real key to the success of their enterprise is the woman consumer, the lady buyer as they
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call them. and there is an effort to target -- before the 20s and 1910s, women are -- advertisers in general, primitive, 1920s focused efforts, the first targeted advertisements which are just designed to make women into consumers, and have them buy. so whether or not how that plays with suffrage movement is hard to say. a lot of women that were advertisers were lady suffragettes. in particular, some departments, some advertising departments were staffed with women only, mainly former suffragettes and they emphasized the themes of individual self-actualization through purchasing decision. for example, you know, this cleaning solution will liberate you from -- will liberate you
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from drudgery. the idea that all these -- i'm trying to remember some of the other copy. but some of it -- >> an example, a soap that will make you desirable to your husband. >> that was -- no, i'm talking about some of the advertisements were like, freedom from the enslavement of having to cook for your husband every day, here is this instant food, instant bisquick or something. these are the women's liberation style advertising. there is also a lot of advertising directed at women that you wouldn't exactly call feminist in its style. a lot of shame advertising. i was looking yesterday at the old listerine advertisements with the headline, often a bridesmaid, infnever a bride. the idea that bad breath would make no one want to marry you and you don't know it and can't figure out why you keep being passed over by men, but ultimately it is because you
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have halitosis which made you undesirable, so the cure was listerine, which previously was a floor cleaning substance and a battlefield disinfectant, the brown stuff. but it became repurposed into a way of getting people married, basically. there was a whole movement. one of the most extreme i can talk about if you're interested in is the cigarette, marketing the cigarette as part of women's liberation. >> that's a really interesting thread that you have there in the book. the idea that women couldn't smoke in public and so there was a campaign embarked upon to more than double the market for cigarettes by making it socially acceptable. how did that go about? >> for women to smoke in public, private was okay. if a woman were smoking at a restaurant, she would be asked to put out her cigarette.
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and so lucky strike in particular had the idea that if they could just get women to smoke whenever they wanted, that they could increase their market share dramatically. this was the age when as i said targeting women was all the rage. first targeted marketing. and so they did various things to try to break the taboo. one of the more well known famous efforts is they staged a fake pro test. lucky strike staged a -- wasn't lucky strike secretly staged a protest during the easter parade. >> real protest. >> real protest. but it was put on by lucky strike. they paid people to protest. where women marched in the parade with cigarettes, which they called torches of freedom. and they describe -- when reporters asked why are you doing this? they said, we're expressing our freedom to smoke outside like a man which we see as a form of liberation. so, you know, the cigarette industry was not above staging
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fake protests. this was a forerunner of astroturf which we talk about, here i am in washington, you have a fake protest movement for a -- some cause. this was one of the first. >> so television and the internet dramatically raised the stakes in this attention economy. looking at today, looking at even this proposed acquisition of time warner by at&t, how does that fit into the idea that capturing attention and monetizing it, turning it into dollars, is a prevailing business of the time? >> yeah, so, you know, there is at&t, an incredibly wealthy company, more revenue than many other companies combined, but it too has come to think that maybe
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the real resource here that matters is your hold on human attention. that is just raw time and raw time and raw hours spent with certain content. that's what they have seen as the only route forward for them to make more money. i think the fact they want to pay $85 billion for time warner's property gives us a sense of just how important this is. i think it is odd just how far this model has gone. in historic perspective, we started this conversation talking about the penny press, the tabloid newspapers in new york in the 1830s selling for a penny. tiny, tiny sector of the economy, nobody really cared about it necessarily. so and then you have a spread, spreads from this business model, the attention merchant business model, spreads, first to radio, then to television.
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and now we're watching every night, and then the last 15 years, comes to the internet. it is every activity, not every, but so many of our activities, you know, going to see what your friends are up to on facebook. even e-mailing google maps, all these things we do from a day to day are supported by an ad model. it is weird, you know. i think a person 40 years ago says you got to be kidding, all advertising based. what is going on? the reason i wrote this book is just to get this -- at this idea, and how much can this really support? can we drive everything the economy on this advertising model. but there is no question in my mind, particularly when everything else in our world, our economy, becomes more abundant, we have enough food, we have shelter, we have clothing. so the old things aren't scarce anymore. one thing that is scarce is time. and attention. the one thing no one has enough of, and the one thing you can't
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expand is time and attention. so i think the contest to control 168 hours. we have 168 hours a week has become more and more intense. so your previous book, the master switch, is about this idea and forgive me where i get this wrong, that previous modes of communication have eventually been dominated by one or two big players and to the detriment perhaps of the society as a whole. and the internet could perhaps head down that similar path. interesting. that at&t, one of those dominant companies in a previous era is now making moves to better position itself in the internet age i believe you wrote that book before the real rise of facebook. what do you think are the chances that the internet will be dominated as your thesis in
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master switch warns is a possibility. >> when i wrote "master switch," a lot of it i wrote about ten years ago. at that point the internet was understood by everyone to be so incredibly competitive. no chance that one company could remain dominant for any length of time. people said, oh, yeah, google is here, but they're going to be gone over a year or two, in way they're going to hold on. facebook had just gotten started. they're like a flash in the pan, you know, in holding power for them. they're going to be gone. so my book, you know, looked at history again and had suggested these patterns, long cycles. and briefly describe it. something new invented. there is sort of a wild open period, wild west era, well, everyone is trying on different business models, seeing what works. very open speechwise, a lot of talk. and then consolidation into
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either an oligopoly or monopoly, like at&t of players, like the te telephone industry had a thousand different companies in it and now it has four depending how you're counting and for a long time just one. so that cycle, which everyone thought the internet was immune to has come to the internet. you look at it now, it is a handful of big companies, google, facebook, apple, internet company, microsoft, and then amazon and then the list starts to sort of trail off. we were talking about the companies that depend on the time and attention, it really is google and facebook are the big players. that consolidation, which everyone thought would never happen, has happened. and, you know, it has implications for our future .
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>> is it necessarily bad? >> i don't think it is necessarily bad. we need to be aware of it and not pretend. one thing we shouldn't pretend is, oh, you know, this will all be solved by competition. we don't have to worry. the internet is so competitive. someone new will come along. at&t lasted in monopoly form for 70 years. i think it -- what i believe from ma"master switch," previou book, is that monopolies themselves are powerful companies themselves go through a life -- series of life stages. they often right when they achieve their monopoly or power are in a golden era, they have idealistic founders, they have very good products, mainly they got there for a reason, usually. google became what it is, not because it had good advertising. didn't even have advertising. got there because it had a great product. facebook a little hard to
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explain how they got there, but people liked it. >> i want to ask you about this. your book sounds very cynical note on facebook. >> right. >> putting up the idea that they're really not giving the world anything but its own relationship, sort of reprocessed and rehashed. >> i get the -- so the basic, you know, quid pro quo looks like this. you watch "i love lucy ," watch the ads, trade something for something. get the ads but have to watch the -- you have to watch the ads but get the good content. i like football. i sit there through the -- like, how many ads can they put in the fourth quarter. i understand. they got to pay the salaries. there you go. facebook, like, what are you getting exactly? you're getting stuff you like, pictures of your friends' kids, but those are your friends, they're not facebook.
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it is this weird thing where they sort of resell you your own life back to yourself, and -- >> is it any different than the telephone? >> well, the telephone, before there was a telephone you couldn't talk to someone 100 miles away. so there is that -- >> well -- >> before there was facebook you co couldn't immediately share pictures of people from high school. >> there was this thing called e-mail. there was e-mail. they organize people a little bit. just doesn't -- >> how do you find them? >> how do you find them, yeah. but doesn't fully compute to me like the service, like the telephone, maybe this is just -- i like seeing my friends' kids. i just think the deal is a little weird. i think we didn't think through it. we gave up all of our personal information. like, i remember i signed up for facebook, who are your favorite bands? okay, i'll tell you. i think we were more naive and i'll tell them more and everything will be better and didn't quite have the idea that
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i was just sort of filling out a giant marketing survey at the time. i was naive as everyone else. but to get back to the message, i think we had a big consolidation into these two. they go through life cycles. good periods, the real danger i think is if the companies are powerful enough that they can shut off their competitors, and therefore stagnate the economy. so, you know, that sounds absurd for google or facebook. but at&t was this incredible dynamic young company in the 20s. and it had shut down the competitors and innovation. this is "master switch" territory, but if you let a giant company have too much control over a part of the economy, it tends to be bad for the country overall. i'm very strong believer in stopping that. >> and that, to me, was sort of the unifying idea is that if you
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let big companies have too much control, too much influence without the people being aware of exactly what they're doing and why it could be bad for society, that that to me, correct me if i'm wrong here, is a thread running through both the books because it seems like increasingly where you go in the attention merchants is this idea that the facebooks, the googles of the world are capturing our attention in subtle ways at first, but then pervasive ways that were not necessarily thinking about. we're not conscious of the bargain. >> yeah, i am concerned frankly about a future where we live in a state of almost being constantly manipulated in subtle ways. it reminds me of, like, the casino again. i don't know if you spent time in the casino. it can be fun to gamble and stuff. there is all these very subtle efforts to make you lose control of yourself and stay there for hours and just do one bet.
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i don't know if i -- i'd like to, like, be able -- i don't like my everyday life to be like that. i don't think our home should be set up like that where we're just kind of in a subtle way always being a little bit manipulated. it is impossible not to be sort of. if you read the newspaper a little bit manipulated, but that's what i'm concerned about. these business models and when we look forward to the future, like internet of everything, and self-driving cars and increasingly sophisticated wearable technology, is it the fact we're going to create an environment where these devices and everything around us are kind of trying to move us in certain directions, maybe commercial, maybe sometimes political, without us really knowing what is going on. what does that mean about a country where we're meant to be free? that's what i'm concerned about. >> okay. so you've got our attention now. ideally what do we do about it? >> i think it is really
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important to in some sense do your own intentional counting. like to figure out how you actually spend your time. and some degree seize control of it and decide distinctly, this is how i want to spend my time. many people do this already. they decide they'll have dinner with their families or something. the weekend, spend your weekend with other people, with friends. i think being aware of how you are spending this incredible, valuable resource is the first step. i also -- this will make me sound old-fashioned, but i think we have to create these lines by ourselves. in the older days, maybe religion forced -- would make people take a day off of work and make -- have them go to church or do things like that or traditions. and now because of the lack of power, organized religion and things like that, we have to kind of do this for ourselves
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and be, like, i'm going to decide what is going to be in some sense a sacred space or space off limits and what is the rest of my life. i'm not saying people shouldn't watch tv or play around or click on the phone, that is life. to have that be all your life, i think, imposes serious risk. the last thing i'll say, is we need to think about advertising in our revolt against advertising. i believe we are in somewhat of a revolt against advertising and be more smart about it. we're in a situation where a lot of people are just doing everything they can to get away from ads. i understand it. ads are annoying. on the other hand, that makes advertisers even more desperate to get at us. we are in this terrible equilibrium where we're constantly fighting and i don't know what the new deal is, but i think we need to somehow, you know, create as a society a
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better deal with advertisers. but then the same time, number two, also support content if you really believe that you don't want advertising. suck it up and pay for more content. i think people who really -- >> so -- >> so netflix. >> netflix is the most successful kind of easy example. but subscribe to newspapers you believe in. you know, all those annoying options, if you like -- just basically paying for stuff is really important. even sports broadcasting. whatever it is. if you really want it to be more and more ad free, you have to patronize the ad free models. we have a bad habit -- >> do you -- do you intentionally stop short of recommending any kind of legal or regulatory action here? because the problem you present, you present on kind of a global
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scale, pervasive multibillion dollar corporate conspiracy to suck the life out of us. acting on an individual basis, a little less time on your phone, doesn't seem like the scale of solution to such a big problem. is there a reason why you stopped short of saying, there needs to be some either new lines in the sand or redefinition of power in this era where people's information, people's data, people's attention has become such a commodity. >> it is a great question. and a challenging question. i think it comes maybe from -- from experience with government, and really wondering if this problem, which is subtle, and very moment to moment, is something that is easy to regulate in a way that is not dangerous or counterproductive. that is the challenge in this area. writing this book, i also
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watched government be involved in this -- watched government be involved in this world and it is mainly in the form of propaganda. i think it is a very challenging thing, especially for a federal government to step in and say we're going to regulate how the marketing appeals to these companies. there is a couple of things that can and should do, truth in advertising, banning fraudulent advertising, supposed to be done already, that kind of thing, but to say we don't want you watching more than x hours of television a day is really hard in a free society. i do support more than the large scale solutions, local solutions, banning on billboards, bans on billboards, bans on flashing signs. but i am not -- little different than "master switch." in this particular case, the problem of our own consciousness
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is very challenging to solve through federal legislation. i'll put it that way. even -- it is such a micromoment to moment kind of thing that i just can't imagine -- when i think about congress, getting at this, i'm like how is that going to work or even well intentioned agency. i just don't -- certain exceptions. like banning ads for kids, for example, makes a lot -- certain kinds of ads for kids makes a lot of sense. but more broadly, especially in a free society, it gets very tricky, very quickly. >> it was okay in the earlier era to ban certain kinds of false or misleading advertisements and i'm not sure whether you feel it was fine to have limits on advertising for things like cigarettes and alcohol in certain cases. these are rules that evolved over time. is there no need for any type of
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different thinking around the way information is collected? >> yeah. >> i'll take that. i'll take that. so, first of all, you're right. first of all, there was the -- at some point in the country we realized you had to ban advertisements that are flat out lies. this is truth in advertising. this pill, you take it, will make you lose 30 pounds and it makes you sick. there was a big period, little off color, but a period where it was very popular to sell the implantation of goat gonads into men to make them more sexually virulent. you want to make money, like, appealing to men's sense of a fading libido is a very -- anyway, a little bit of an aside. i think there are sort of categories. >> in a way, i see lots of those commercials on tv now, though.
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little blue pill works. >> we have not given up -- haven't given up on magic potions at all. raspberry ketones are supposed to do these things. i think that stuff, the line should be -- so where would i, you know, given carte blanch think things should be targeted. i think we -- in terms of regulatory areas, i think it is important to think about the ads that are just stealing from you with nothing in return. so i don't know if you've ever been to -- i'm sure you've been to the back of the new york taxi cap and they start blowing ads at you and no way to get out of it, you're a captive audience. how is this not just in a way stealing from us. your mind, your time. sometimes an airline. i would be very situational, certain environments, like need to be more peaceful. and i actually -- i guess maybe
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one reason in the book i held back a little bit is i didn't want to try to cram into one chapter at the end, like here is all the solutions to all the problems and regulation. people get distracted by that. i wanted to say, okay, look, here is our problem. we have a problem. our attention is being taken from us. maybe we really need to think about this in this kind of way as a kind of feeling almost before we get to what would work as solutions. i didn't really think i had the master answer. it is very hard to do that in the last chapter of the book. and that's rone of the reasons held back. >> i can imagine. and one thing i wondered about when it comes to the collection of information and the tracking of individuals across various sites and services is why isn't it possible for consumers to see the dossier on them, basically, if my e-mail address is being used by facebook and amazon to retarget ads when i'm on amazon
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back to me on facebook and is being used by other sites to track me across the -- why don't i have access to a master map, be able to see that, and make the decision, do i like this? and if i don't like it, can i shut certain doors and stop certain services from following me so easily? >> actually, you can stop them right now. the problem is that most people don't bother to use the features. there is these do not track features built into most browsers. any viewer can do this. probably should. one of the things, because there is no regulation of this area or very limited regulation and people are resorting to self-help and there are browsers like the brave browser which i use, which bans all ads and renegotiates what tracking is allowed. i think, you know, to get on this tracking, we should never forget that, you know, this is our country. this is -- we are citizens, sovereign. if we don't like something, we should be able to ban it.
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and, you know what, who really loves being tracked? who loves going to a website and having all the information collected to you, sent over from the mothership to be processed. if we don't like it, we should ban it. we have the right as citizens to say some of these practices are too intrusive. we know they're supposed to by us better ads but we don't think it is worth it. they know everything. there is a good example. this poor fellow had liver cancer and one day started hearing all the ads for funeral homes. because they figured out you're going it die soon. maybe, you know, to -- probably in an era, but nobody really loves these tracked ads. i would never say that, you know, we the citizens of the country or the city of the state shouldn't have the right it say we don't like this, stop it. >> so what do you think the odds are that we are in one of those
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moments you close the book with the anecdote about apple introducing ad blocking in the latest version of the operating system, safari and the uproar that caused or perhaps it was a version ago. is that the early sign of a revolt? >> we could be in the beginning stages of a revolt that fundamentally changes a business model of media forever. it is hard to say right now. but it is possible that, you know, 20 years from now, we'll be, like, remember advertising? it lasted for 120 years, but, you know, it died off, people weren't interested or people had all the information they needed. one thing you have to realize is that 100 years ago, people didn't know what toothpaste was. people got the idea, look, i know what budweiser is, don't need to see another ad. i got it. it could be that advertising becomes something that retreats to very limited kind of
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products, maybe new movies need to hear about, but otherwise, starts to fade away. it is possible that it just declines, especially for major media. we're not there yet. it is very early. but we could be at the early stages of something in retrospect, seems so obvious, that this business model, 20th century, you know, like a lot of 20th century things, they seem like a good idea at the time, but now we do things differently. >> and i guess that would cause a major realigning and a lot of different businesses, not the least of which would be googles and facebooks. they have quite a bit of power to influence society. is that going to be a had hindrance to that happening? >> also television advertising, still the main revenue model. though, about half of television revenue now comes from nonadvertising, interesting.
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it would be really interesting, something to ponder, to see what would happen if facebook and google switched to paid models. if people would pay, you know, $12 a year for facebook or something. people would pay -- i would probably pay for google a dollar a month or whatever it would be. and if they wean themselves off that diet, would that ultimately lead to a completely different place for how the economy goes forward. i'm not sure. it is hard to get people to part with money. what they think is money. they -- americans, we like parting with money and less obvious ways. that's the nature of the culture. we're addicted to free stuff. so the other side of us would say advertising is to natural, a part of this idea of selling is so natural that will never be fully rid of it. >> well, i can't think of a better note to end on than that somewhat hopeful note about what could happen in the future. tim wu, the book is "the
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attention merchants:the epic scramble to get inside our heads," a fascinating read and should make some of us question about the bargain we made for some of this supposedly free services and free media that we consume. tim, thanks. >> a great pleasure. thanks. every weekend, book tv brings you 48 hours of nonfiction books and authors. and here's what's coming up this weekend. saturday at 1:30 p.m. eastern, it is the 35th annual key west literary seminar in key west, florida. celebrates new voices in american literature from all over the world, through conversations and panel discussions. our schedule includes time columnist joe kline on politics and literature. author and yale professor steven carter on race, power and law. "new york times" op-ed columnist and author gail collins on women in politics.
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and a discussion on writing history with biographer robert cairo and historian brenda wineapple. then at 9:00 p.m. eastern, united arab emirates ambassador to russia omar saif ghobash talks about the dangers of islamic extremist and what it means to be a good muslim in the world today. on sunday at 9:00 p.m. eastern on after words, fox news channel chief political anchor brett bear looks at the exchange of power from president dwight d. eisenhower to president john f. kennedy in his latest book "three days in january: dwight eisenhower's final mission." he's interviewed by susan eisenhower, ceo and chairman of the eisenhower group incorporated. >> in this meeting we have great detail from both sides. eisenhower is very impressed and says to himself, you know, maybe the american people got this right. there is a lot to this guy. but what concerned him most is that he didn't like kennedy, the
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national security apparatus that was set up for accidedissenting. >> go to booktv.org for the complete weekend schedule. recently representative ro khanna spoke to c-span for a house freshman profile. this will not be his first time working in washington, d.c. congressman khanna served as the deputy assistant commerce secretary under president obama. he talked about his grandfather piqued his interest in politics and what he hopes to accomplish for his constituents in the 17th district, largely made up of silicon valley. >> congressman ro khanna, democrat, represents california's 17th district. why did you decide to run and when? >> i decided to run because i thought silicon valley was such an important district for the nation. and we have this divide where some people have been part of the technology revolution benefiting, others have been excluded. and i think the valley

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