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On the Duty to Be an Attention Ecologist

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Abstract

The attention economy — the market where consumers’ attention is exchanged for goods and services — poses a variety of threats to individuals’ autonomy, which, at minimum, involves the ability to set and pursue ends for oneself. It has been argued that the threat wireless mobile devices pose to autonomy gives rise to a duty to oneself to be a digital minimalist, one whose interactions with digital technologies are intentional such that they do not conflict with their ends. In this paper, we argue that there is a corresponding duty to others to be an attention ecologist, one who promotes digital minimalism in others. Although the moral reasons for being an attention ecologist are similar to those that motivate the duty to oneself, the arguments diverge in important ways. We explore the application of this duty in various domains where we have special obligations to promote autonomy in virtue of the different roles we play in the lives of others, such as parents and teachers. We also discuss the consequences of our arguments for employers, software developers, and policy makers.
Philosophy & Technology (2022) 35: 13
Vol.:(0123456789)
https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-022-00514-6
1 3
RESEARCH ARTICLE
On theDuty toBe anAttention Ecologist
TimAylsworth1· ClintonCastro1
Received: 10 November 2021 / Accepted: 14 February 2022
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. 2022
Abstract
The attention economy — the market where consumers’ attention is exchanged for
goods and services — poses a variety of threats to individuals’ autonomy, which, at
minimum, involves the ability to set and pursue ends for oneself. It has been argued
that the threat wireless mobile devices pose to autonomy gives rise to a duty to one-
self to be a digital minimalist, one whose interactions with digital technologies are
intentional such that they do not conflict with their ends. In this paper, we argue
that there is a corresponding duty to others to be an attention ecologist, one who
promotes digital minimalism in others. Although the moral reasons for being an
attention ecologist are similar to those that motivate the duty to oneself, the argu-
ments diverge in important ways. We explore the application of this duty in various
domains where we have special obligations to promote autonomy in virtue of the
different roles we play in the lives of others, such as parents and teachers. We also
discuss the consequences of our arguments for employers, software developers, and
policy makers.
Keywords Ethics of technology· Kantian ethics· Autonomy
1 Introduction
The attention economy — the market where consumers’ attention is exchanged for
goods and services — poses a variety of threats to individuals’ autonomy, which,
at minimum, involves the ability to set and pursue ends for oneself. The “free” apps
and web services that are a cornerstone of this market are in fact paid for with users
attention, a precious resource to advertisers who have an interest in keeping users
on their wireless mobile devices in excess. But the wireless mobile devices, such as
smartphones, that deliver these services are often bad for users, not only in terms of
* Clinton Castro
Clinton.g.m.castro@gmail.com
Tim Aylsworth
Tim.aylsworth@gmail.com
1 Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA
Published online: 22 February 2022
/
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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