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Hidden Brain

Our Mental Space, Under Attack

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Otto Steininger, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Lots of people make New Year's resolutions that focus on conserving something. Some people pledge to eat less junk food. Others will commit to saving more money.

Columbia University law professor Tim Wu has a suggestion for something else people should consider conserving: attention. In his new book The Attention Merchants, Tim argues that our mental space is constantly being hijacked.

"You go to your computer and you have the idea you're going to write just one email. You sit down and suddenly an hour goes by. Maybe two hours. And you don't know what happened," Tim says.

"This sort of surrender of control over our lives speaks deeply to the challenge of freedom and what it means to be autonomous."

Companies ranging from Google to Fox News have found ways to grab our attention, package it, and then make money off it by selling it to advertisers. On this week's Hidden Brain, we discuss the strategies newspapers, television shows, and websites use to harvest our attention.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Renee Klahr. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

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