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In his new book, he targets another kind of corporate domination: the industry that monopolises our attention. According to Wu, this industry emerged from the first world war.

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In Germany could mobilise 4. To build a bigger army, the British government embarked on the first systematic propaganda campaign in history. It printed 50 million big, colourful recruitment posters and plastered them on shops, houses, buses and trams throughout the country. It staged rallies and parades. And it worked: stirred by this unprecedented experiment in state-sponsored persuasion, millions of young men marched off to gruesome, pointless deaths in a gruesome, pointless war.

If governments could convince their citizens to choke to death on poison gas in a foreign country, surely the private sector could apply the same techniques to persuade people to buy things.

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The Attention Merchants : The Epic Scramble to Get inside Our Heads (Reprint) [Paperback]

Thus the modern advertising industry was born. Over the course of the s, a powerful class of commercial propagandists emerged, particularly in the US. Many decades of rapid industrial expansion in the capitalist west had produced an excess of productive capacity.

One way to deal with this problem had been to conquer parts of Asia and Africa and make new markets by force — imperialism. Another was to boost demand at home, by creating new desires for consumer goods and allowing wage levels to rise to the point where people could act on them. The first involved literal colonisation; the latter, the colonisation of everyday life.

It is less a history of advertising than of how this enclosure happened: the technologies, platforms and formats that have made it possible for media to penetrate an ever-growing portion of our waking lives. Wu is no technological determinist. Sometimes this involved creating an entirely new cultural form, such as the radio serial or reality TV. Companies come up with new ways to get our attention, and then sell that attention to other companies.