Infinite Distraction: Paying Attention to Social Media (Polity, 2015)
“The social media of ‘Web 2.0’ distract us to death, yet they also demand and absorb all our attention. They make us all interchangeable with one another, yet they also divide us into tiny groups that never meet or interact. In Infinite Distraction, Dominic Pettman takes the measure of these odd paradoxes and cuts the Gordian knot of perplexity in which they leave us.” — Steven Shaviro
“[A] necessary manual to understand the massive grey zone somewhere between the preprogrammed and the accidental.” — Jussi Parikka
It is often argued that contemporary media homogenize our thoughts and actions, without us being fully aware of the restrictions they impose. But what if the problem is not that we are all synchronized to the same motions or moments, but rather dispersed into countless different emotional micro-experiences? What if the effect of so-called social media is to calibrate the interactive spectacle so that we never fully feel the same way as other potential allies at the same time? While one person is fuming about economic injustice or climate change denial, another is giggling at a cute cat video. And, two hours late, vice versa. The nebulous indignation which constitutes the very fuel of true social change can be redirected safely around the network, avoiding any dangerous surges of radical activity.
In this short and provocative book, Dominic Pettman examines the deliberate deployment of what he calls “hypermodulation”, as a key strategy encoded into the contemporary media environment. His account challenges the various narratives that portray social media as a sinister space of synchronized attention, in which we are busily “clicking ourselves to death.” This critical reflection on the unprecedented power of the Internet requires us to rethink the potential for infinite distraction that our latest technologies now allow.