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“Lanham’s Economics of Attention, Part One” Part Two

My generous feelings for the Economics of Attention have cooled after reading the second half of the book (and because of the conversation we had in class last week about his less than stellar citing), but I still think there is some valuable content in last four chapters. I think the most useful chapter for T&T purposes is chapter 5, Style/Substance Matrix, as it provides a concise summary of his argument (that oscillation between style and substance is vital for the new information economy), and that his four part matrix was helpful in understanding this concept.

In the explanation of his first spectrum (Signal), he also reiterated that there should be no value judgements for any aspect of the matrix, stating that “no point on the spectrum is intrinsically evil or virtuous; it seeks to describe rather than proscribe, to analyze rather than to condemn” (p. 150). In other words, that unornamented “stuff” should not be privileged over fancy “fluff”, a theme that runs through each of his spectrums. Instead, he tries to illustrate that each spectrum should be considered to be a circle more than a straight line, and that we should move between both extremes depending on the situation, and the “stuff and fluff” in question. In fact, I would have liked to see this chapter in the first half of the book, because I feel like it gives his argument a little more context.

In contrast to chapter 5’s usefulness, I think that chapter 7, The Audit of Virtuality, could do with some major updates. Although I agree with his argument that higher education should take inspiration from the business sector’s professional development courses on alternative schedules, I felt as though some of his points about the effectiveness of the online class in contrast to the traditional, in-person course are weak. In particular, he doesn’t spend much time discussing faculty engagement with students within the online course. I would be interested to see his opinion on the flipped classroom model that has been popular in recent years and how they fit into his view of traditional instruction. One other passage in this chapter that was particularly irksome to me was on page 235, where he was derisive about the concept of the “wired classroom”, which completely discounts the varying digital literacy skills of students (even today) and the benefits of in-person instruction.

I’m unsure about the inclusion of Economics of Attention on the T&T reading list. Although I feel that some of the text is still useful for the field, other chapters are dated since they do not include social media use or an updated view on online courses. I’m interested to see what everyone else has to say!

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