Communication in the era of attention scarcity
International Seminar Series at The American University of Paris (Fall 2014)

The rapid evolution of digital technology has been accompanied by a series of phenomena that have been referred to with labels such as “media convergence”, “information overload”, “death of distance”, “attention economy”.

This seminar series focuses on the set of processes that all these phenomena have in common: attentional processes. With interventions from leading thinkers of world renown, this multi-disciplinary seminar series explores different aspects of the unprecedented transformation society is undergoing and that is reshaping not only the way we access information, but also how we relate to one another and the very essence of what we are, how we learn and how the “human” will eventually evolve.

If you are interested in joining any of the sessions please register here (sign on is now closed).

All seminars will take place from 17h00 to 18h15 in one of the AUP's buildings (please see confirmation email for details)

Monday 15.9 Waddick Doyle (AUP) - Inaugural lecture
Semiotics and the Attention Economy
Monday 22.9 Jayson Harsin (Baruch College) - via videoconference
Bringing together interdisciplinary strands in critical attention and cultural studies: affect, attention, power and circulation
Monday 29.9 Georgi Stojanov (AUP)
Relation between Creativity and Attention
Monday 6.10 Georg Franck (Vienna university of technology)
The Economy of Attention in the Age of Neoliberalism
Respondent: Ahmed Bounfour (Université Paris-Sud)
Monday 13.10 Julie Thomas (AUP Emerita) - ONLY OPEN TO CM5091F STUDENTS
Attention and color
Monday 20.10 Dominique Boullier (Sciences Po Paris, médialab)
Designing envelopes for attention policies
Respondent: Charles Talcott (AUP)
Monday 27.10 Yves Citton (Université de Grenoble)
Attention Ecologies and Attentional Agency
Respondent: Oliver Feltham (AUP)
Monday 3.11 Rachel Huber (AUP alumna)
Digital movement and branded attention enclosures: Vogue Fashion Night Out Paris and the Nike FuelStation
Monday 17.11 Robert Payne (AUP)
Divided attention and networked promiscuity
Respondent: Geoff Gilbert (AUP)
Tuesday 2.12 Jean-Philippe Lachaux (INSERM, Lyon)
The attentive brain
Respondent: Maria Medved (AUP)


About the organizer:

Claudia Roda is Professor of Computer Science at the American University of Paris. Her research in human computer interaction, which has been widely published and generously sponsored by several institutions including the European Commission and the A. W. Mellon Foundation, is particularly focused on the impact of digital technology on human behavior and social structure.  Claudia is the founder of AUP’s Technology and Cognition Lab, she recently published the book “Human Attention in Digital Environments” with Cambridge University Press and is currently leading AUP’s participation in the EU sponsored, FP7 Support Action PRIPARE on Internet privacy and security.

Speakers profiles and abstracts

Monday 15.9 

Waddick Doyle (AUP) – Inaugural lecture

Professor Doyle is the founder and director of the Masters in Global Communications program at The American University of Paris and teaches courses in Media Globalization, Contemporary World Television, Media Law, Policy and Ethics. He has held positions at universities in Italy, France and Australia. Doyle’s background is in both the comparative philosophy of meaning (socio-semiotics) and the political economy of mass communications. His work covers the deeper cultural effects linked to transformations of media systems, and the development of a globalized brand media culture. He has published on what he calls the sacralisation of brands and reality television, and on media and belief. Doyle is active in the major international communication associations, the ICA and IMCRA. He is also a member of the board of the Centre pour les études des communications internationales (CECI) in Paris and the Global Media Research Center at the University of Southern Illinois.

Semiotics and the Attention Economy
Semiotics understood simply is the study of how humans make meaning. Meaning is as Oakley(2009) points out clearly linked to attention. We pay attention to what has meaning to us and what we give attention to will come to have meaning. As our global economy has become increasingly semiotic and concerns the global circulation of meaning exemplified in brands, it has become important to understand how attention and meaning are linked. Brands are in a constant struggle to gain and conquer human attention through managing systems of visual and verbal difference. They aim to produce habits of attention and consumption indeed to dominate the habits of daily life. Semiotics is based on the theory of meaning being produced in systems of difference. The economy of attention also requires constant production of difference and attraction. As we are attracted or repulsed, our attention is taken by what breaks our visual and verbal dictionaries as Messaris (1998) argues. What then is attention’s relation to linguistic and semiotic systems of difference? Benveniste argues that the experience of time and space are produced through pronouns and other linguistic markers of subjective experience. We seek in this paper to conceive of how systems of signs are linked to attention. Attention has traditionally been the subject of rhetoric rather than semiotics but can we argue that it is useful to consider the relationship between attention, attraction and habit through a socio-semiotic point of view.

Monday 22.9 

Description: ayson Harsin

Jayson Harsin (Baruch College)

Jayson Harsin is a professor of communication studies at Baruch College, City University of New York (on leave from the dept. of Global Communications at the American University of Paris). He works across political communication, cultural media studies and popular histories, and social/political/cultural theory.  He has published widely on news media, convergence of old and new media technologies, attention, race, freedom and political control. He is currently finishing a book entitled "The Rumor Bomb: Vertiginous Politics in Convergence Culture”.

Bringing together interdisciplinary strands in critical attention and cultural studies: affect, attention, power and circulation
The burgeoning scholarship on attention economy, affect and media is often disconnected due to disciplinary boundaries. In this presentaiton I demonstrate how a turn to affect (preconscious bodily intensities, distinct from emotions which are conscious) influence by Deleuze and Spinoza, cognitive scientific work on attention, political communication/media studies work on priming, framing, and algorithmic control may be brought together around new questions of power, psychopower as the philosopher Bernard Stiegler has called it. Partly due to the perceived problem (by elites in business, government and politics generally) of fragmented mass attention into niche markets because of the explosion of communication channels and flows, our attention has become an object to be studied, predicted and controlled for profit and for political advantage, which raises perennial questions about our freedom under such conditions. I will discuss these issues through the case of what I call rumor bombs as a globalizing phenomenon (Obama is a muslim with a fake birth certificate, Francois Hollande is supported by over 700 mosques, the French government has a policy requiring the teaching of masturbation in primary schools, etc.).

Monday 29.9 

Georgi Stojanov (AUP)

Professor Stojanov’s research interests are in: cognitive development and creativity; analogy and metaphor; learning in artificial and natural agents; modeling cognitive phenomena with robotic systems; radical constructivism; languages and translation. He has published more than 50 scholarly articles in journals, book chapters, as well as in the proceedings of various scientific meetings in the above mentioned fields. Dr Stojanov is co-founder of the Institute for Interactivist Studies and member of organizing committee of the bi-annual Interactivist Summer Institute (ISI). He is a member of EUCog (European network for the Advancement of Artificial Cognitive Systems, Interaction and Robotics), AAAI (American Association for Artificial Intelligence), ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), ISAB (International Society for Adaptive Behavior), and JPS (Jean Piaget Society). He has been a member of the program committees of numerous conferences, symposia, and workshops in the domain of Artificial Intelligence and developmental robotics.  

Creativity and Attention
Throughout life we acquire the conceptual apparatus which enables us to formulate and reason about specific problems at hand. Moreover, the conceptual apparatus steers our perception of the world exactly in terms of the concepts we have, and enables us to easily filter out irrelevant input and focus our attention on the essential aspects of some given situation. Obviously, this gave us, the humans, the evolutionary advantage to survive and control much of our environment. However, when it comes to solve a problem in a creative way, the very same conceptual apparatus can become a hindrance by preventing us to see the problem in a new way or to take into consideration features which do not come forward at the first sight. In other words, what we need to get rid of the conventional way of looking at the problem and come up with a fresh look or a re-conceptualization of the problem in order to solve it. One can argue that, in a certain sense, every creative endeavor requires re-conceptualization, re-focusing, and a fresh look. In my presentation, I will explore the relation between creativity and attention. Both creativity and attention have been popular research topics for the past 50-60 years but only recently their relation attracted more researchers. I’ll briefly cover the past research on creativity, discuss the current understanding of it, and present the results of our research of its relation to attention

Monday 6.10   

Georg Franck (Vienna university of technology)

Born 1946, Georg Franck studied philosophy, economics and architecture. His doctorate is in economics. In 1974 he became a practising architect and town-planner. In addition, he was active in software development and produced a planning information system, which has been marketed since 1991. Since 1994 he has held the chair of digital methods in architecture and planning at the Vienna University of Technology. Beyond the confines of his discipline he became known for his work on the economy of attention and the philosophy of time.

The Economy of Attention in the Age of Neoliberalism
In the context of the economy of attention, media are information markets. The distinctive feature of old and new media, accordingly, is a business model rather than a technological base. Old media are those information markets where information continues to be exchanged for money, new media those which have left the exchange of information for money behind only to attract attention. The business model of new media relies on selling the service of attraction to the advertising industry. This paper points out the parallelism between the rise of the new media and the ascent of financial industries. Both these developments were triggered by the neoliberal agenda of deregulation and have resulted in a sphere of unleashed capitalism removed from the “real” economy. In both culture and finance the neophyte forms of capitalism prove to be superior in profits and dynamics. In both money and attention capitalism we have to deal with a new class of rich. In the economy of attention the new class are the celebrities whose wealth of attention is activated as a capital yielding interest in terms of attention income. The paper investigates the question of how celebrity culture could grow into the paradigm of advertisement financed media culture


Respondent: Ahmed Bounfour (University of  Paris-Sud)

Professor Ahmed Bounfour is European Chair on Intellectual Capital Management and Director of the center on Networks & Innovation  at the University of  Paris-Sud within the RITM research group. Amongst his other responsibilities, he is 'Coresponsable du pôle Business Models de l'ISN – Digital Society Institute, Université Paris-Saclay',  and since 2005 Scientific Director of the World Conference on Intellectual Capital for Communities of the World Bank Institute, World Bank

Monday 13.10 

Julie Thomas (AUP emerita)

Julie Thomas ( M.A., Harvard; Ph.D., University of London) is Professor Emerita of International Communications at  the American University of Paris. She has co-organised and co-chaired (with Claudia Roda) the workshop on Digital Interactivity at the  2003 International Symposium on Information and Communication Technologies, Trinity College, Dublin, and the workshop on Attention-Aware Systems at  the 2004 British HCI Group Annual Conference, Leeds Metropolitan University.  She is co-editor of  the special issue on Attention-Aware Systems of the journal Computers and Human Behaviour . 

Monday 20.10

Dominique Boullier (Sciences Po Paris, médialab)

Dominique Boullier, Professor of Sociology at Sciences Po Paris, médialab since 2009, executive director of Forccast (an international multipartner program in pedagogical innovation based on controversy mapping). Former director of  LAS lab (University of Rennes), Lutin user lab (Cité des sciences, Paris), Costech (University of Compiègne), Euristic Média (a company he started).  He created the first on-line university diploma in France in 1997 (Dicit, Université de Compiègne). His research focuses on the sociology of digital architectures policies and experience, on personal data ecosystem, on cognitive technologies, on the economy of attention and on the third generation of social sciences, sciences of vibrations, able to tackle Big Data issues.


Respondent: Charles Talcott (AUP)

Professor Talcott’s research interests draw extensively from critical and legal theory, cultural studies & rhetoric, psychoanalysis, and political philosophy. His current teaching and research circulates within the complex geographies of colonial and post-colonial memory, media and narrative. Tracing lines of travel and displacement, his work explores the political and cultural significance of instances of legal and linguistic difference with media structures past and present.

Monday 27.10

Yves Citton (Université de Grenoble)

Professor of eighteenth century French literature at the University Stendhal-Grenoble 3, Yves Citton has taught at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, as well as the universities of Yale and Pittsburgh in the United States. He is a member of the research unit LIRE (CNRS 5611) and coeditor of the journal Multitudes. He edited the number 54 of the journal Multitudes: "Nouvelles luttes de classes sur le web : Économie de l’attention et exploitations numériques" and in November 2013, co-organised the conference "L’économie de l’attention au carrefour des disciplines". He recently published Pour une écologie de l’attention (Seuil, 2014), L’économie de l’attention. Horizon ultime du capitalisme ? (La Découverte, 2014), Gestes d’humanités. Anthropologie sauvage de nos expériences esthétiques (Armand Colin, 2012), Renverser l'insoutenable (Seuil, 2012), Zazirocratie (Éditions Amsterdam, 2011), L’Avenir des Humanités. Économie de la connaissance ou cultures de l’interprétation ? (La Découverte, 2010), as well as Mythocratie. Storytelling et imaginaire de gauche (Éditions Amsterdam, 2010).

Attention Ecologies and Attentional Agency
This presentation will briefly present the notion of “attention ecology”, at the three levels of collective attention, joint attention and individual attention, stressing the necessary integration as well as the specificity of each of these levels. It will then proceed by trying to locate our agency in relation to attentional behavior: what can we do, and what can we not do with our attention? If attention is a scarce resource, who is in a position to command its uses?”


Respondent: Oliver Feltham (AUP)

Professor Oliver Feltham is chair of the department of Philosophy and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. His areas of expertise include critical theory, contemporary French philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis. His areas of competence include early modern philosophy, and political philosophy. His current project is to develop a history of models of political action, playing practical episodes of political innovation, such as in the English, American and French revolutions, against philosophers’ attempts to theorize those moments in their systematic accounts of politics and social justice. The first installment of this project was published in March 2013 by Bloomsbury under the title Anatomy of Failure: Philosophy and Political Action. Feltham is also interested in contemporary poetics and aesthetics, particular with regard to theatre.


Monday 3.11 

Rachel Huber

After receiving a BA in French from the University of Sussex, Global Communications alumna Rachel Huber spent 10 years working in California as a marketing, advertising and e-tail copywriter. Currently working as an editorial and advertising translator, her research has focused upon self quantification and the digital space.

The Nike FuelStation and Vogue Paris' Fashion Night Out: The Impacts of Self-Monitoring and Surveillance on Consumers
As culture critics and techno-alarmists such as Nicholas Carr examine the ‘networked condition,’ (Lovink: 2011) the theme of diminished attention has become common critical currency. In his works The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google, Is Google Making us Stupid? and The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Carr makes the case that as individuals put down books to favor reading, writing and communicating online, a technology of constant distraction has started to cause our neural pathways to rewire themselves. However, to position technology as a ubiquitous external force which quite simply imposes itself on the mind of the individual is to ignore the role of the body and the body’s movement in in today’s information-rich digital landscape. As digital space refracts human movement, rendering ephemeral actions in time and space into traceable GPS-monitored data flows, movement has become fetishized, visualized and subjected to new forms of surveillance. Thanks to myriad online applications and Internet-enabled devices, to move in the contemporary world also means to move and be tracked simultaneously in multiple online and offline spaces. And, as a result, consumer brands are able to hold an influential new position in individuals’ lives. Thanks to GPS-enabled devices such as running trackers and smartphone applications such as diet monitors, brands are seamlessly engaging in the surveillance of consumers and many individuals are freely inviting brands to track their movements. By examining Vogue Paris’ use of geolocalization for its Fashion Night Out event and Nike’s adoption of movement tracking within its FuelStation pop-up stores, it becomes clear that brand interventions in the realm of digital surveillance have corporeal impacts on the consumer. As I explore how brands use surveillance to mediate consumers’ space and bolster their own political economies, my work exposes the blurring of digital and material space, the creation of attention enclosures and opens up debate to suggest that the firewalls of the digital sphere could soon become physical barriers to accessing spaces in the material, ‘real’ world.

Monday 17.11   

Robert Payne (AUP)

Robert Payne is professor of Global Communications at the American University of Paris, where he teaches classes on digital media, gender studies and cultural studies. His research combines interests in the construction of gender and sexuality with analysis of the texts and social and political contexts of everyday media and popular culture. His book "The Promiscuity of Network Culture: Queer Theory and Digital Media" will be published by Routledge in late 2014. Taking a broad range of examples from contemporary media - from online social networks to film to celebrity culture to the mapping of human trafficking - the book examines unpacks how gendered and sexual norms structure the multiple intimacies of network culture.

Divided attention and networked promiscuity
Liking, sharing, friending, going viral: what would it mean to recognize these current modes of media interaction as promiscuous? In a contemporary network culture characterized by a proliferation of new forms of intimate mediated sociality, I argue that promiscuity is a new standard of user engagement. Intimate relations among media users and between users and their media are increasingly structured by an entrepreneurial logic and put to work for the economic interests of media corporations. But these multiple intimacies can also be understood as technologies of promiscuous desire serving both to liberalize mediated social connection and to contain it within normative frames of value. This paper will analyze an example of viral celebrity to demonstrate the dynamics and inherent contradictions of subjectivity built upon the divided attentions of multiple networked intimacies.


Respondent: Geoff Gilbert (AUP)

Geoff Gilbert is professor of Comparative Literature and English and director of the Master program in Cultural Translation. He joined the American University of Paris after teaching at Cambridge University. His research interests include Modernism, contemporary literature, Marxism, queer theory, translation studies, cultural studies, and cultural translation. His first book, Before Modernism Was: Modern History and the Constituency of Writing, was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in 2004. All of his writing and teaching is informed by an interest in the relations between literature and culture: he is interested in thinking writing as an impacted instance of human behaviour, neither transcending culture and history nor fully determined by it. Currently, he is interested in the practice of translation, which engages the location of that behaviour within global forces, and he is focusing that interest in a study of contemporary realist writing and contemporary economic processes.


Tuesday 2.12 

Jean-Philippe Lachaux (INSERM, Lyon)

Jean-Philippe Lachaux, graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris with majors in mathematics and physics and received a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience in 1997 from the University of Paris working with Francisco Varela. His thesis focused on gamma-band activity in human intra-cerebral EEG recordings and the role of large-scale synchrony in attentional processes. He then spent three years with Charles Gray at the Center For Neuroscience at University of California at Davis and at Montana State University. He now works as a Research Director at the French National Health Research Institute (INSERM) in Lyon, focusing on the role of local and long-range neural interactions in human cognition. Following his long-term interest in attentional processes, he published a popular science book on that topic : Le Cerveau Attentif (O.Jacob).



Respondent: Maria Medved (AUP)

Maria Medved (PhD, CPsych) is a professor and psychologist with a specialization in neuropsychology. One of her current research projects is concerned with how people with “altered” brains–whether due to accident, disease or other disorders–deal in everyday life with their changed emotional and cognitive capacities. She is especially interested in the influence of the sociocultural milieu on the way individuals cope with these challenges.